ISC urges Charity Commission to publicly endorse fee-paying schools as charities

The Independent Schools Council says it is concerned that independent schools have become regarded as the poor relation of the voluntary sector

Fee-charging schools can register as charities
Fee-charging schools can register as charities

The chair of the Independent Schools Council has called on the Charity Commission to make a public statement endorsing its support for fee-charging schools as charities.

In a letter to John Wood, interim chair of the Charity Commission, alongside its response to the regulator’s ongoing consultation into its public benefit guidance, Barnaby Lenon, chair of the ISC, says he is concerned that independent schools have become regarded as the poor relation of the voluntary sector.

In the letter, Lenon says: "Independent schools represent a substantial, established part of the charitable sector. In addition to the intrinsic value of the education they provide, those schools and their pupils strive to serve and to provide for others within their communities in all manner of ways, often unheralded but widely valued.

"But we are concerned that it has become commonplace to dismiss independent schools as poor relations to ‘proper’ charities," he says.

He says "a narrative that regards charitable independent schools as somewhere between historical anachronisms and tax avoidance shelters is deeply corrosive".

"I therefore ask you to consider…what the Charity Commission can do to support such an important part of the charitable sector.

"This is not to ask you to take a political or ideological stance on independent education…but rather to endorse publicly the right of independent schools to take their place on the commission’s register of charities."

The letter also says the ISC was disappointed that it was not invited by the commission to take part in redrafting public benefit guidance after bringing the case to the Upper Tribunal that concluded that parts of the regulator’s original guidance were "wrong in law". The guidance was subsequently withdrawn.

The ISC response says that the guidance is unclear on important concepts.

"Trustees will find it hard to understand what the commission understands by ‘the poor’, since this is defined by reference to ‘low fees’ which, in turn, is defined by reference to ‘the poor’," the response says.

"What is not brought out by these circular definitions is the decisive role of the trustees (acting properly) in determining who must benefit from the charity’s operations."

The ISC says that instead of making references to people who cannot afford fees to benefit from an independent school’s services, the commission should include a sentence in the new guidance that says it is up to trustees to determine who and to what extent they should benefit.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it welcomed responses to the consultation, but did not comment on individual submissions.

The consultation closes on 26 September.

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