Threatening private schools - the last refuge of defenders of unreformed state education

October 30, 2007 1:29 PM

The Telegraph reports that the Charities Commission are threatening to get tough with private schools who they believe don't provide sufficient benefit to poor students:

"Charity officials may carry out snap inspections of independent schools to make sure they are benefiting poor pupils, it has emerged.


They will have the power to strip schools of their charitable status – collectively worth £100 million a year – if they fail to pass the new test of "public benefit".  Other schools failing to comply could have their trustees suspended or bank accounts frozen."

This can't be separated from a political pressure from the Government that has seen private schools complaining that over-regulation is undermining their independence.  During the Labour deputy leadership race many contenders argued that they would like to see tougher conditions or a complete removal of charitable status from private schools.


A key rationale for giving charities tax breaks not available to other organisations is that they provide a service that, without the charity, government would need to provide - lifeboats are a great example.  Private schools clearly fit into this category as if their were no private schools there would be a significant number of additional pupils that the state sector would have to cater for.  There is no good reason to single out private schools for ever more onerous demands for additional public benefit.


Politicians should be spending their time trying to sort out an education system with massive problems.  From the Better Government Position Paper (PDF):


  • 11 year-olds: 25% leave primary school without sufficient ability in reading and writing to tackle the secondary school curriculum.

  • 14 year-olds: almost 30% do not reach the expected levels in English, Maths and Science to tackle GCSEs.

  • 16 year-olds: almost 60% do not achieve a GCSE grade C or better in all the three core subjects of English, Maths and Science.

  • After 11 years of state education at a cost of over £75,000 per child, pupils are leaving school functionally illiterate, innumerate and unskilled:

  • 40% do not achieve at least a C grade in GCSE English.

  • Some seven million adults in England cannot locate the page number for plumbers in an alphabetical index to the Yellow Pages.

  • 47% would be unable to achieve a grade G at GCSE maths.

  • The OECD finds that Britain has the second highest level of low-skilled 25-34 year olds in the 30 countries of the OECD – twice the level of Germany or the USA.

None of those problems are the fault of the roughly 7% of children who are educated privately.  Real reform of the education sector with politicians getting out of management should be the order of the day rather than class warfare politics.

The Telegraph reports that the Charities Commission are threatening to get tough with private schools who they believe don't provide sufficient benefit to poor students:

"Charity officials may carry out snap inspections of independent schools to make sure they are benefiting poor pupils, it has emerged.


They will have the power to strip schools of their charitable status – collectively worth £100 million a year – if they fail to pass the new test of "public benefit".  Other schools failing to comply could have their trustees suspended or bank accounts frozen."

This can't be separated from a political pressure from the Government that has seen private schools complaining that over-regulation is undermining their independence.  During the Labour deputy leadership race many contenders argued that they would like to see tougher conditions or a complete removal of charitable status from private schools.


A key rationale for giving charities tax breaks not available to other organisations is that they provide a service that, without the charity, government would need to provide - lifeboats are a great example.  Private schools clearly fit into this category as if their were no private schools there would be a significant number of additional pupils that the state sector would have to cater for.  There is no good reason to single out private schools for ever more onerous demands for additional public benefit.


Politicians should be spending their time trying to sort out an education system with massive problems.  From the Better Government Position Paper (PDF):


  • 11 year-olds: 25% leave primary school without sufficient ability in reading and writing to tackle the secondary school curriculum.

  • 14 year-olds: almost 30% do not reach the expected levels in English, Maths and Science to tackle GCSEs.

  • 16 year-olds: almost 60% do not achieve a GCSE grade C or better in all the three core subjects of English, Maths and Science.

  • After 11 years of state education at a cost of over £75,000 per child, pupils are leaving school functionally illiterate, innumerate and unskilled:

  • 40% do not achieve at least a C grade in GCSE English.

  • Some seven million adults in England cannot locate the page number for plumbers in an alphabetical index to the Yellow Pages.

  • 47% would be unable to achieve a grade G at GCSE maths.

  • The OECD finds that Britain has the second highest level of low-skilled 25-34 year olds in the 30 countries of the OECD – twice the level of Germany or the USA.

None of those problems are the fault of the roughly 7% of children who are educated privately.  Real reform of the education sector with politicians getting out of management should be the order of the day rather than class warfare politics.

Latest Blogs: