Senior Professional Officer Ian Toone asked this question in an article in the January 2011 issue of Your Voice, from which the following is adapted.
"According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a charity is an organisation which exists 'for the benefit of others, especially of those in need or distress'. This definition includes privately funded independent schools, providing them with access to tax concessions, funding grants and other benefits.
"At one time, the fact that schools existed to promote education was sufficient to justify their charitable status. That situation changed with the Charities Act 2006, which requires not only that charities must fulfil a purpose falling within a prescribed list but also that this purpose must meet the 'public benefit test'.
"It is argued that fee-paying schools provide other benefits beyond 'public benefit' and bursaries. Advocates of private education point to the following.
- By educating children who would otherwise be schooled at the expense of the taxpayer, the independent school sector is lessening the tax bill of the general public by up to Â£4 billion per year.
- All independent schools provide for pupils' special educational needs without recourse to state funding.
- Independent schools are not automatically exempt from paying VAT and contribute around Â£270 million of VAT annually.
- Many independent schools provide free or subsidised access for local communities and neighbouring state schools to playing fields and other facilities.
"The independent sector educates pupils to achieve top grades in subject areas which are often less popular in the state sector.
"Critics, however, point to the social divide created by a system that restricts entry predominantly to those who can afford it, thereby perpetuating social and academic advantage among an exclusive elite and mitigating against social equality and the egalitarian values which should lie at the heart of a modern democracy.
"Nevertheless, if the new emphasis on public benefit encourages private schools to review their commitment to the wider public by seeking to be more proactive in their local communities and extending bursaries so that children from less advantaged homes can benefit from what such schools have to offer, this may foster a new partnership from which all may ultimately benefit."
What do you think?
Can we ever create a totally level playing field between state and private schools?
If you have further comments or observations, please add them below
Poll: Should private schools have charitable status? (1 - 21 March 2011)
Yes: 41% (9)
No: 59% (13)