Scottish regulator confirms charity status of two Brethren schools

The Oakwood Education Trust and the Springvale Education Trust, both affiliated to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, were part of a review of 39 schools by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

The Oakwood Education Trust, which operates as Focus School – Laurieston Campus
The Oakwood Education Trust, which operates as Focus School – Laurieston Campus

Two independent schools in Scotland that are affiliated to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church have had their charitable status confirmed after a review by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

The Oakwood Education Trust, which is based in Falkirk and operates as Focus School – Laurieston Campus, and the Aberdeenshire-based charity the Springvale Education Trust, which operates as Focus School – Millden School, have held charitable status since 1996 and 2002 respectively.

The PBCC follows a doctrine of separation. Six of its meeting halls in England have been  registered as charities by the Charity Commission this year, including the  Preston Down Trust, which was registered in a landmark decision by the commission in January.

The two schools are the latest in the group of 39 fee-charging schools to have been assessed by the OSCR. The review of the private schools was announced in September 2012 and is now complete except for Struthers Memorial Church and Fernhill School.

In both the report into Oakwood and the report into Springvale, the OSCR says that it looked into the PBCC disciplinary practices of excommunication, meaning expulsion from the community, and "shrinking". Formerly known as "shutting up", shrinking is imposed on dissenting or disaffected members, who are sent to live alone and brought only food and reading material.

"The charity trustees have advised us that shrinking or excommunication are methods used by the Brethren community in general only as last resorts and are not applied to children under the age of 17," the reports say. A child whose relatives were subject to such procedures was still welcome at the school, the reports say.

The reports say that the charities’ trustees said non-Brethren children could attend the schools. "The charity trustees have advised that being a child of the Brethren is not a requirement to attend the school, the important factor being rather the adherence to the ethos and guiding principles of the school," they say. However, neither school had ever had a formal application from non-PBCC children, according to the reports.

The issue of fees is also addressed. The two schools ask for non-compulsory contributions rather than mandatory fees, and these are lower than for many private schools, the report says. This further persuaded the OSCR that the schools should have charitable status.

Martin Tyson, head of registration at the OSCR, said: "As with all of the schools we have reviewed, there was an issue of possible undue restriction on gaining access to the benefit provided. We were also aware of issues that related specifically to these two charities."

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