Public benefit? It's not a problem

Fee-paying schools with the best exam results appear to be confident they will not have to introduce any new measures to comply with the new public benefit test.

Third Sector surveyed the 12 most academically successful independent schools to find out what they were doing to prepare for the test. None reported that it was planning any changes.

The Charities Act 2006 removed the presumption that the advancement of education was a charitable purpose. Fee-paying schools must now prove they provide a public benefit to maintain their charitable status.

The Charity Commission will start a consultation next week for its document on public benefit, as revised in the light of the act. Fee-paying charities will be the first to be tested.

Some schools declined to comment. The ones that did said they believed they already provided public benefit. They cited a variety of programmes, including bursaries, partnerships with other schools and work in local communities.

Last month, charity law firm Stone King predicted private schools would have no problem demonstrating they provide public benefit (Third Sector, 31 January).

The four schools that did not respond were Queenswood School in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, King's College School in Wimbledon, south London, Cranleigh School in Cranleigh, Surrey, and Magdalen College School, Oxford.

Schools' responses

• 'We were heading full steam in the direction that the act wished us to go long before it was a gleam in anybody's eye' - Dr Martin Stephen, high master, St Paul's School, London

• 'It'll take me 20 or 30 minutes to answer your questions, and that will be 20 or 30 minutes I'll have to stay late one day. I've got a lot of work to do' - Giles Brand, bursar, Badminton School, Bristol

• 'I don't think we're doing anything different. We haven't changed very much' - Daniel Murton, marketing director, Perse School for Girls, Cambridge

• 'I'm very sorry. I'm afraid we do not want to answer these questions' - Julie Osborne, bursar's secretary, St Mary's School, Ascot

• 'The Abbey School has worked with other schools for many years and so hasn't had to make specific changes' - Sue Heddon, marketing manager, The Abbey School, Reading

• 'We participate in and support our local community as much as we can. The main difference now is that we record these events centrally so that we can clearly demonstrate the public benefit that we provide' - Darren Milne, financial director, Cheltenham Ladies' College

• 'We have quite an extensive outreach programme, so we're already meeting the requirements of the act' - Sharon Senn, bursar, Withington Girls' School, Manchester

• 'I am sorry, but the headmistress decided she did not wish to be included in this feature. Perhaps another time ...' - Julia Pointer, PA to the headmistress, St Helen and St Katharine, Abingdon.

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