Private schools pass charity test but face increased scrutiny
Third Force News, by Robert Armour
Jim Murphy warns tougher regulation could lie ahead for Scotland’s private schools.
Private schools in Scotland have officially passed the charity test but will continue to have to prove they deserve the status, Scotland’s charity regulator has announced.
It comes after the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) completed its ongoing review of the country’s 52 schools which have charitable status.
Forty met the test immediately, with a further 10 doing so after they took action to address concerns.
OSCR’s head of registration, Martin Tyson, said the review would help to maintain public confidence in the charity sector.
He said: "From the commencement of the charity legislation in 2006, we identified fee-charging schools as a priority group that continues to have a high degree of interest from the public.
"Where we have found problems we have taken action to ensure that charities are all now doing what the charity test requires.
"More recently, we embarked on a full-scale review of this group and today’s report sets out our findings and key issues."
I think private schools need to do more in sharing some of the academic brilliance that they have – Jim Murphy
He added: "Our work is aimed ultimately at reinforcing public confidence and our report illustrates both the issues we consider and the enforcement action we take where required.”
It comes as Labour MP Jim Murphy, who is bidding to become Labour’s new Scottish leader, said he would impose tougher rules on private schools to make them work with ailing schools in the state sector if he were to become First Minister.
“I think private schools need to do more in sharing some of the academic brilliance that they have,” he said. “I just have a sense that they are doing the minimum necessary, not all that is required.
“The charitable status of these schools has been established for a long time, but as part of it they have got to do more to reach out to the community in which they live.
“This is one of the things in future if I’m first minister I want to be judged by. What are they doing to help move the educational attainment among the poorest children from the poorest families in the poorest part of the country?”
Murphy joins a growing chorus of dissent questioning private schools’ charity status.
Last month Ashley Husband Powton, an undergraduate student, lodged a after a 200 signature petition at the Scottish Parliament called for an end to their charity status.
Powton claimed private schools are given an unfair financial advantage compared to state-run schools due to being able to pay reduced non-domestic rates because of their charitable status.
In her petition, Powton stated: “This inequity must be rectified by removing charitable status, and thus taxpayer subsidy, from private, fee-paying schools.”
Only about 4% of pupils in Scotland attend private schools. The regulator has been examining whether the schools do enough to justify charitable status with, for example, bursaries for those families who cannot afford fees.
John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: “The OSCR process was specifically designed at Holyrood to ensure that independent schools did so much more than the minimum necessary’, and the evidence is that, after much hard work, they do — in terms of means-tested assistance, community engagement, teacher training, and support for the curriculum and national qualifications.”
More than 30,000 young people in Scotland are currently attending private schools and around one in four young people in the capital go to a fee-paying school. Average fees are more than £10,000 a year.