Third Sector at large: Alma matters - just how private is a private education?

Mr Justice Warren, the Christian Brothers and Charles Dickens are on our minds this week

- Mr Justice Warren wisely got his retaliation in first during the recent preliminary hearing in the forthcoming judicial review of Charity Commission decisions on the public benefit of fee-charging schools. He said two of the three judges in the case, who will also consider the Attorney-General's reference on the same subject, went to such schools, but declared himself satisfied that "it will be a balanced and independent tribunal". Unfortunately, he didn't actually say where he, Alison McKenna, president of the charity tribunal, and Judge Elizabeth Ovey went to school, and the press office of the Judiciary of England and Wales won't help. "We never give out personal information about judges," it says. "We have to keep a balance between declaring interests and keeping private lives private." Isn't this a bit absurd, making a secret of where they went to school?

- Who's Who, however, reveals that Ovey went to Southampton Grammar School for Girls, which is now called Taunton's College and has never charged fees. McKenna's entry doesn't say where she went. So a process of elimination suggests she and Warren were privately educated. But then we find that Warren went in the 1960s to the Blessed John Rigby Grammar School in Wigan, a Christian Brothers school for boys. Since only one Christian Brothers school, in Bath, charged fees at that time, it would seem only one of the trio went to a fee-charging school (assuming we're talking about secondary level). The plot thickens.

- We know the Christian Brothers did not charge fees in Wigan because Third Sector columnist Peter Stanford says so - he's been working on a history of their schools, which were dedicated to educating poor Catholics and used the unofficial motto "turning the sons of dockers into doctors". Warren's alma mater became the Saint John Rigby College, a state sixth form college, in 1972, changing its name because the eponymous Catholic martyr had been canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 (so should that be alma martyr?). Rigby was burnt at the stake in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I, a penalty fortunately no longer available to the courts in this case - or even to the monarch.

- "Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which every man has some." This saying by Charles Dickens was tweeted last week by Peter Wanless, head of the Big Lottery Fund, as further evidence of the sector's preoccupation with the great man. It's probably a coded reference to some trauma that's happened at the BLF. It is, however, a saying and not from a Dickens novel - hence technically ineligible for the crumpled fiver promised last week for Dickensian utterances in the sector. Hard times, and all that.

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