Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the schools inspectorate Ofsted, has suggested that independent schools should lose their charitable status if they do not sponsor academy schools.
Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, made the comments yesterday at a conference hosted by the Sutton Trust think tank in London.
Wilshaw said he thought independent schools, which can demonstrate the public benefit they provide in such ways as giving local state schools access to their facilities, should do more to give something back to their communities in the form of sponsorship of local schools.
"I get quite angry when I hear independent school heads saying ‘inequality is getting worse’ and wringing their hands – well, we know that," he said. "Get stuck in. Sponsor an academy.
"And I think they should lose their tax subsidies and the reliefs they get from the Charity Commission unless they sponsor an academy and show they really mean what they say."
Wilshaw went on to say that independent schools’ preference for partnerships with other schools rather than direct involvement was just "a way to meet the demands of the Charity Commission and not much else".
Julie Robinson, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, which represents more than 1,200 independent schools, said they did contribute to the community and said it was a shame that Wilshaw had chosen to attack them.
Robinson said more than nine out of 10 ISC schools were in "mutually beneficial" partnerships with state schools.
"This is very much direct involvement, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities in imaginative and creative ways, to the benefit of children in all the schools involved," she said.
She said 110 ISC members had either sponsored an academy or were members of groups that ran both independent schools and academies.
But she said a typical independent school would have fewer than 350 pupils and, despite working within their communities and with other local schools, they would lack the resources to sponsor an academy.
"Partnerships work best when they are desired by all parties and are scalable," she said. "Threatening schools with sanctions unless they take up projects prescribed by government would only serve to undo the countless valuable activities already taking place."