Labour party challenges private school charity status

Education Executive, 07.01.16, independent schools should be required to provide more support for local state schools as a condition of their charitable status, according to proposals from the Labour party. HMC Chair Chris King, headmaster of leading independent Leicester Grammar School is quoted.

The plans were put forward as amendments to the Charities Bill going through Parliament, according to the BBC.

Labour called on independent schools to share music and arts facilities and careers advice.

The Boarding School Association said the plans were "built on prejudice".

The amendments were discussed in committee on Thursday, but were not put to a vote. They could be revived at a later stage of the legislative process.

The proposals from Labour would oblige independent schools to share "resources and facilities" with state schools, as a requirement of their charitable status and associated tax benefits.

Labour called for the Charity Commission to publish guidance setting out the minimum required of independent schools in how they "engage with their local communities".

And the Labour amendments, put forward by shadow charities minister Anna Turley specified that independent schools should share facilities for music, drama and arts.

They also called for more support for careers advice and work experience projects in local state schools.

Labour's shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: "With social mobility stalling we want to see more collaboration in the system and the whole independent sector doing more to engage and work with other local schools whether that's sharing facilities or experience.

"Some of the best private schools do that, but many don't. As a result, more should be done to ensure the independent sector earn their charitable status."

But the Boarding Schools' Association, representing many independent boarding schools, attacked the plans as failing to recognise the extent of existing partnerships.

"These are half-baked proposals, built on prejudice against private schools and based on ignorance about the huge amount of brilliant partnership work that happens now," said the association's national director, Robin Fletcher.

"Clearly someone has no idea that hundreds of independent schools already have extensive partnerships with local communities and state schools, often much broader than what is being put forward."

Chris King, who chairs the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said such a "heavy handed" legal approach would not be effective and that 99.7% of its schools already shared such facilities.

"It seems the Labour front bench has come up with the wrong answer to an important educational problem," he said.

"Whilst heads of leading independent schools fully support genuine improvements to opportunities for all pupils, the latest call to compel us into partnerships is misguided," said Mr King.

"It is pointless to force schools to do something they are already doing."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "There are many independent schools in vibrant partnerships with local state-funded schools.

"These partnerships can include a huge range of activities, from curriculum and teaching support through to the sharing of facilities and joint events, for example in sports, music and drama."

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