A future Labour government might legislate to remove the charitable status of independent schools that do not do enough to serve the community at large, according to Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary.
In an article in The Guardian today, Twigg says the last Labour government attempted to toughen the law in the Charities Act 2006, which removed the presumption of public benefit providers of education, including independent schools, and required all charities to demonstrate that they provide public benefit.
Twigg says that difficulties in defining what was and was not charitable were "probably where it all fell apart", and that there are still "a significant number of private schools that are failing to fulfil their charitable objectives", .
If necessary, he says, he would introduce primary legislation to force independent schools to fulfil their charitable objectives: "There should be a proper, open, transparent process that is very, very rigorous in how it treats private schools and charitable status".
Twigg says he would like the Charity Commission to be "much tougher" on the subject. The commission’s guidance on fee-paying schools and public benefit, introduced after the Charities Act 2006, was successfully challenged last year by the Independent Schools Council at the charity tribunal, which said the guidance was "obscure" or "wrong in law" in parts. The tribunal said it was the duty of school governors to decide how they met their charitable objectives.