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Disappointed in charitable status testing

My understanding is that it is the intention of the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator to update and extend its guidance on meeting the charity test to reflect experience gained throughout the first 12 to 18 months of operation.

In my view, in OSCR's decision to grant charitable status to the High School of Dundee, no attempt was made to explain how the fees charged by the school can or cannot be regarded as unduly restrictive in relation to the capacity of parents of all social classes in the area to pay such fees. OSCR has therefore failed to comply with the terms of the legislation which requires that to be considered.

Whether the fees of the High School of Dundee are higher or lower than those of other fee-charging schools is not relevant. What is relevant is whether fees of between pound;5,000 and pound;9,000 per annum are affordable by parents in all social classes. When average incomes are approximately pound;23,000 and 20 per cent of children in Scotland live in households with incomes of less than pound;16,000 per year, that is demonstrably not the case.

We are also disappointed by OSCR's failure to consider the public disbenefit of selection by the school on the grounds of ability. There is considerable evidence that academic selection has the effect of creaming off more able pupils and thereby depressing standards for other schools which do not select.

Evidence from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that education systems which select a proportion of pupils on the basis of academic achievement do disadvantage those pupils who are not selected.

The charities regulator appears to have a preconceived view that charitable status would be granted to fee-charging schools and then devised arguments to justify that position. It ought to re-examine its approach to this issue, to ensure it is fair and mindful of the legislative requirements.

Ian McCalman, secretary, Socialist Educational Association Scotland.

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