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Taxmen go buy the books

Charitable status is not just a privilege of independent schools; grant-maintained and local authority-controlled schools can also gain from the tax advantages of covenanting.

Grant-maintained schools automatically have charitable status and a growing number are encouraging parents to covenant money, according to Christine Dickson, who is head of the education group at Chantrey Vellacott. She reckons that one in 10 of the schools audited by her accountancy firm has already set up covenanting schemes.

Local authority schools can benefit if they set up a charitable trust through the Charity Commission. At Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, 110 parents covenant between Pounds 2 and Pounds 12 a month over a five-year period to the school's book trust, which raises about Pounds 6,000 a year for new books.

"We introduced the scheme reluctantly, but education funding is so poor that some parents are prepared to help," said Peter Downes, the school's head, who is a former president of the Secondary Heads' Association.

The new books are displayed at parents' evenings, so that they can see where their money is going. Anne South, treasurer of the Hinchingbrooke School Association, who has a 16-year-old son at the school, said: "If parents know the money is going towards a specific area in the school, they are more willing to give." Confidentiality is also essential if covenanting is to succeed, Mrs South believes. None of the teaching staff at the school knows which parents have made donations.

For some parents, the idea of reclaiming tax acts as an incentive. "Parents are keen that the taxman should contribute. They see it as a way of making the Government pay," said Christine Southall, who is head at Chiltern Edge School at Sonning Common, Oxfordshire. Chiltern Edge has a well-established covenanting scheme which raises Pounds 4,000-Pounds 5,000 a year; the money is spent on "topping up" books and equipment throughout the school.

* An information pack on registering as a charity is available free from: The Charity Commission, 14 Ryder Street, London SW1Y 6AH. Tel. 0171 210 45484432

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