Tory MP says private schools should lose charitable status

On the Conservative Home website, Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee, says his party should confront this 'shibboleth'

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, has called for the end of across-the-board charitable status for private schools.

Writing for the Conservative Home website, Halfon, who is MP for Harlow and was skills minister between July 2016 and June 2017, says it is unclear why private schools should be regarded as charities and questions the purpose of granting them charitable status.

Halfon, who went to a private school, says that although many private schools offer bursaries, he is not sure whether they are actually reaching really low-income students and those from truly deprived areas.

"Through their charitable status, private schools get significant tax breaks, including concessions with VAT and business rates – and, of course, no corporation tax if they make a surplus," he says.

"Is it fair that these tax advantages are available to public schools, though further education colleges and public sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT on their purchases? Yet these latter institutions really do provide a ladder of opportunity to those students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds."

Halfon argues that private schools should therefore lose their charitable status and the money the government would have spent on charitable concessions for them should be used to fund teachers in outstanding inner-city schools.

"If we Conservatives are to be able to present and make the case for a moral and fair capitalism, we must not be afraid to take on a few shibboleths so that a fair-minded public will really believe us when the government have to take tough decisions on the economy," Halfon writes.

"How much better would it be if it were Conservatives who counter-intuitively got rid of charitable status rather than leaving it to the left to claim the moral high ground?"

The article also questions the argument that private schools deserve charitable status because they save the Treasury money by educating children who would otherwise be taught in state schools.

Halfon says this logic would mean that "any private good purchased, over a state one, should then be offered charitable benefits in kind", and would include private health and even homeowners in a broader-than-intended interpretation of charitable status.

Halfon’s article comes after the Barclay Review of Business Rates in Scotland told the Scottish government that private schools should lose their business rates relief because it was unfair on their state counterparts.

Research by the business rates firm CVS in June found that 586 charitable private schools in England and Wales would save £522m over the next five years because of their entitlement to the 80 per cent mandatory charitable relief on business rates.

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