Andrew Hind, the Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, writes to the Sunday Telegraph (Oct 18th) to deny that the Commission is making decisions on the charitable status of fee-paying schools “in order to suit its own political agenda”. He is either deceiving himself, or attempting to deceive the rest of us. The fact is that Labour is pursuing its relentless, ideological, class-based assault on private education, and its chosen weapon is the Charity Commission, under its leftist chairman Dame Suzi Leather, who is almost a caricature of a New Labour place-man.
Socialists used to be motivated in their opposition to private education merely by a misplaced, class-based idea that all children should be treated identically, that there should be no place in the system for élitism or excellence. But today, they have an even stronger motivation. The relative performance of the private sector stands as a constant public reproach to the state sector, proof positive that state education (with some worthy exceptions) is failing our children. Ideally Labour would like to close the private sector outright, but fearing the back-lash, it has decided on a stealth approach which will raise costs, reduce viability of private schools, and at the same time dilute the very factors that enable them to deliver quality.
The technique is simple. The law requires a charity to deliver a public benefit in order to justify charitable status. But the Charity Commission has chosen to establish a perverse and convoluted definition of public benefit, which imposes intolerable costs and burdens on fee-paying schools. They will be required to offer extensive bursaries to the poor — adding to the already high and escalating fees for everyone else. In addition, they may be required to share facilities, or teachers, with state schools.
Last week I had the privilege of making a visit to my own old school, which I left in 1962, King Edward VI Southampton, and of meeting the current Headmaster Mr. Julian Thould MA. (Sadly the Headmaster from my time, Dr. L. John Stroud, is long gone). The school, founded in 1554, used to be a grant-maintained boys’ Grammar School. It has now reinvented itself as an independent fee-paying co-ed school, and is thriving. I was interested to learn that the school has extensive engagement with the local community, with pupils contributing to a range of worthwhile community-based activities and projects. Many people might think that such work and engagement clearly constituted a public good.
More generally, surely the main public good that we expect from a school is the delivery of education to children and young people. Education, almost by definition, is a public good. Private education is doubly so. Generally it delivers better results than state education, so a private school is a greater public good than a state comprehensive. But there is a vital third factor: every single child at a fee-paying school is one less charge on the Exchequer — a benefit which surely even New Labour can recognise in these straightened times. I sometimes wonder if the New Labour apparatchiks have paused to think of the extra costs if all the children in private education suddenly turned up on the doorstep of state schools.
The plain fact is that the private sector already delivers a very substantial public good indeed. The Charity Commission’s position has nothing to do with public good, but everything to do with Labour’s prejudice and class hatred.
Is there any good news in this gloomy picture? Indeed there is. I suspect that Dame Suzi Leather’s tenure as Chairman of the Charity Commission is unlikely to survive more than about half an hour beyond the next General Election. She should make the most of her few remaining months in the job.
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