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Excuses? We're doing our bit, say independents

Perspective is a rare commodity in educational politics and it is in danger of disappearing from educational journalism, too - at least as far as independent schools are concerned.

Lord Hodgson opened his recent report on the charitable sector by highlighting that the oldest charity in England "is believed to be the King's School Canterbury, which was established in 597 and, despite some gaps in its history, still exists today". Few independent schools can claim such a venerable history but our sector's longevity demonstrates why many are right to be wary of government-sponsored, totemic policies - particularly when they are painted as moral duties.

The diversity of the sector - which, incidentally, has always included selective and non-selective schools - simply means that there can be no single moral compass pointing unwaveringly in the direction of the government's academy programme. Instead, there is a rich variety of ways in which schools live up to their responsibility to reach out beyond their fee-paying constituency. And let's stop belittling the real scale of engagement. For the price of one free school, the independent-state school partnership scheme ran for 12 years and supported an estimated 350 partnerships involving more than 1,500 schools across the sectors.

In upholding the Independent Schools Council's judicial challenge of the Charity Commission last year, the courts recognised that there is no "one size fits all" legal requirement of public benefit. It would be a lasting policy mistake to seek now to enforce a single model of engagement for all schools.

Matthew Burgess, General secretary, Independent Schools Council.

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