Private school charity rules to be changed


The Charity Commission has been told to rewrite its guidelines regarding what schools must do to justify their charitable status after a landmark ruling by the country's highest tribunal court.

The court ordered the Charity Commission to rewrite key parts of the document following claims from private schools that it would drive up fees for existing parents and price some families out of independent education altogether.

Most private schools are charities and the status brings tax benefits.Under new rules, brought in in 2006, private schools had to prove their wider public benefit to keep their charitable status. They could not be called charities just because of the public benefit of giving an education to the children going there.

The ISC, representing 1,260 schools, argued at the tribunal at the High Court in London that the Charity Commission's guidance placed too much emphasis on the extent to which independent schools offered bursaries to poor children.

In its ruling, the tribunal confirmed that private schools, as educational charities, have to demonstrate a wider public benefit, beyond that to their own pupils. And it confirmed that charities have to provide more than a token benefit to the poor.

Matthew Burgess, ISC deputy chief executive, said: “The ruling liberates schools to innovate and be creative in their charitable provision.

“The commission’s former approach, now discredited by the tribunal, had the effect of reducing the public benefit of independent schools to a crude calculation of fees and bursaries.”

In the new ruling the judges agreed that charities must provide significant benefits for the poor but suggested that schools should have a bigger say on how they fulfil the requirements.
Public benefit can cover bursaries, master-classes for state schools, sharing teachers, making teaching material available online and giving state schools access to facilities, said the ruling.

It added that not all of the benefits which the school provides to those other than students paying full fees need to be for the poor.
“We see no reason why the provision of scholarships or bursaries to students who can pay some, but not all, of the fees should not be seen as for the public benefit,” it said.

The Charity Commission has accepted the tribunal's conclusions and said it would amend the relevant parts of our public benefit guidance.

School Leadership Today