THE Independent Schools Council (ISC) has criticised the Charity Commission’s spot check on organisations with charitable status. “We are deeply disappointed with the approach . . . which focuses on the amount of means-tested bursaries provided by each school,” said an ISC statement, after the Commission reported its findings on the public-benefit requirement for charities, on Tuesday.
“In focusing on bursaries, the Commission has not only downplayed the significance of partnerships with local schools and communities, but also deliberately discounted the wider social benefits that . . . the independent sector provides.”
Five independent schools were included in the Commission’s survey, three of which passed the benefit examination. The successful three provide bursaries amounting to five per cent or more of fee income, while two others, both small independents, were given a year to do more to justify their charitable status, even though they were praised for providing public benefit through local partnerships.
The decision has led to a call for greater clarity. “If the Charity Commission’s benchmark for bursaries is five per cent, it should say so plainly,” said the chairman of governors of a leading independent day school.
The Board of Education has a list of 540 C of E independent schools registered with the Department of Children, Schools and Families as having a religious (Anglican) character. More than 400 of them are represented by the ISC. They include Eton and Winchester, the Woodard Foundation, and the United Church Schools Trust, which was founded to educate pupils under a specifically Anglican umbrella.
One of the two schools put on notice by the Charity Commissioners, St Anselm’s, Bakewell, was Anglican in terms of its religious education and assemblies rather than in its trust, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
What seems certain is that overtly C of E schools such as those in the Woodard organisation would easily pass the Charity Commissioners’ requirement. Woodard, which owns 23 independent schools, supports extra-curricular activities in more than 20 maintained affiliated schools, and spends 12 per cent of its gross income on bursaries.
The United Church Schools Trust, with 11 independent schools, has a good record on bursaries, and to date has sponsored 17 academies.
Monkton Combe School, Bath, which has 700 pupils, is currently attempting to raise a £20 million endowment fund specifically to provide bursaries.