Will it be harder for independent schools to keep their charitable status?

30 September, 2016

In her policy speech on education on 9 September 2016, the Prime Minister raised the subject of the charitable status of independent schools. She is instigating a review of the Charity Commission guidance on the charitable status of fee paying schools and spoke of a “tougher” test for schools to show that they provide public benefit in order to qualify for charitable status.

The guidance in place, which was rewritten after a successful challenge by the Independent Schools Council in 2011, already makes it clear that schools have to prove their wider public benefit in order to be charitable. The public benefit test must be more than token – to cover such things as bursaries for poorer pupils, sharing of sports and arts facilities, seconding teaching staff to state schools or hosting joint school events.  However, the guidance is not prescriptive and it allows charity trustees the freedom to decide how best to fulfil their pubic benefit obligations in the light of their own particular circumstances

Mrs May’s vision is for a greater partnership between the independent and the state sector and for more direct sponsorship by independent schools of government funded schools. However, she recognises that this has to be proportionate to size and that some schools are better placed than others to do this. Smaller independent schools will be asked to provide more limited help such as direct school-to-school support through teaching in subjects like classics and further maths.

We have yet to see what changes will be put in place once the consultation on the guidance has been completed, but it is likely that independent schools will have to focus even more closely on how they can demonstrate that they are providing a public benefit.