Some independent schools think charitable status 'is not worth having', says Barnaby Lenon

The chair of the Independent Schools Council tells the TES that some would give it up if the process were simpler

Barnaby Lenon
Barnaby Lenon

Many independent schools think charitable status is hardly worth having and would give it up if the process was simpler, according to Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council.

In an interview with the education publication TES, published this week, Lenon said complying with the guidance for fee-charging charitable schools was not worth the benefits offered by charitable status.

"Many schools think to themselves from time to time that the relatively meagre benefits of charitable status hardly seem worth having, given the amount of pressure they come under and the additional requirements that are made on them," he said.

The interview comes five years after the ISC brought a legal challenge to the Charity Commission’s guidance that laid out what fee-charging schools should do in order to ensure they meet the public benefit requirement. The ISC claimed this was too onerous for independent schools to comply with.

The challenge went to the upper tribunal and the Charity Commission eventually withdrew its guidance, replacing it with a new version that said the public benefit offered by fee-charging schools must be more than "minimal or tokenistic".

Lenon admitted he was "not aware of any schools that have actually taken a decision to abandon charitable status because they just don’t think it’s worth having".

But he said: "There are a number of reasons for that. One is that it’s not straightforward legally… If it were made easier to abandon charitable status, then more schools would."

A Charity Commission spokesman said independent schools registered as charities were bound by charity law.

"Charity status comes with many benefits as well as responsibilities," he said.

"Trustees would need to think carefully about the implications for their charity if they were to seek a change to their charity’s status."

The ISC represents 1,267 independent schools, of which about 1,000 are charities.

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