Charity Commission updates guidance on the public benefit duty of fee-charging schools

The guidance now encourages trustees to comment on their approach to this matter in the annual report

Fee-charging schools: changes to guidance
Fee-charging schools: changes to guidance

The Charity Commission has released updated guidance that encourages trustees of fee-charging schools to comment in their annual reports on activities they carry out to meet their public benefit duty, such as sharing their sports facilities with their state counterparts.

The guidance previously said fee-charging schools that had charitable status could fulfil their public benefit duty by sharing sports and arts facilities with nearby state schools. But it now encourages trustees to comment on their approach to such activities in the annual report.

"The guidance has always made it clear that sharing facilities with local state schools is one way in which trustees of charitable independent schools can fulfil their public benefit duty by making provision for the poor to benefit," a statement from the commission said.

"The updated guidance now encourages trustees of charitable schools, as a matter of good practice, to comment on their individual approaches to public benefit in sports, drama, music and other arts in their trustee annual report."

The move comes after debates in the House of Lords on the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, in which concerns were raised about whether independent schools were making their facilities available often enough.

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire attempted to add an amendment to the bill at its report stage in July, requiring independent schools to engage actively with local communities and state schools and share facilities, and requiring the Charity Commission to publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools needed to do to comply with the duty.

Wallace told the Lords he hoped the amendment would give "a strong nudge" to independent schools to pursue and develop such partnerships, rather than waiting to be approached.

The amendment was not adopted, but after discussions the commission agreed to update its guidance.

Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications at the Charity Commission, said: "This small change to our guidance sends a clear signal to independent school charities: if you have good facilities for sports or the arts, sharing them with local state schools is an excellent way for you to make sure you run your charity for the public benefit.

"We know that many charitable fee-charging schools already open their facilities to local state schools, and we would encourage trustees of all such charities to consider carefully, and report on, how students in state education benefit from using their school’s facilities."

Julie Robinson, the general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, said independent schools had a long tradition of sharing facilities and expertise with other schools and their local communities.

She said: "Across the country, extensive partnership work already takes place and there is genuine enthusiasm to see the wide range of projects grow even further.

"The Charity Commission's new guidance won't change this work, but will encourage schools to highlight the full range of activity already taking place, which is perhaps not widely reported."

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