'Charity test' is failed by three independents

18th January 2013 at 00:00
'Disappointed' schools now have 18 months to prove they benefit public

Three independent schools in Scotland that failed the national regulator's "charity test" to prove they offer public benefit have been given 18 months to comply.

Fettes College and St George's School for Girls, both in Edinburgh, and St Columba's School in Kilmacolm all expressed "disappointment" at the findings by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, and said they would work with it to meet its requirements within the prescribed timescale.

David Robb, chief executive of OSCR, said: "While 10 of the schools have shown that they do provide a sufficient level of public benefit, we have found that three do not and we have therefore issued them with directions to comply with the legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament."

The regulator found "insufficient measures" had been taken by all three schools to provide bursaries, or to otherwise widen access to their facilities.

In the case of St George's - an independent day and boarding school in Edinburgh which won an SQA award in 2007 for its work with a local comprehensive - OSCR found that although staff contributed to educational developments and standards in Scottish education, including sharing regular practitioner research seminars and its Confucius classroom expertise, it had not demonstrated a "clear, ongoing commitment" to mitigating the impact of its fees.

Anne Everest, head of St George's, responded: "We were very disappointed by OSCR's decision, given the extensive range of partnerships and work with the community that St George's undertakes, and which is a matter of public record: our statutory accounts give details of these many activities."

In the case of Fettes, OSCR made similar findings in terms of its provision of limited financial assistance. Fettes offers use of its sports facilities to two local primaries and access to events (in sports, maths and career developmentfurther education) to pupils from other schools, as well as tuition to a small number of pupils from other schools in specialist subject areas.

But the regulator ruled: "The school has not evidenced that it is committed to offering a significant enough level of regular benefit for which there is little or no charge, when considered in the context of substantially above-average fees."

St Columba's School, a co-educational independent day school in Kilmacolm, failed the test because it committed a very small proportion of its income to means-tested bursaries, benefiting only a few pupils.

Much of its community activity was "relatively infrequent or ad hoc" and therefore not substantial enough to mitigate the level of fees charged by the school, said OSCR.

David Girdwood, head of St Columba's, explained the school was not supported by a charitable foundation and had only offered financial support since 2008; this year's allocation of #163;200,000 had to come from increases to parents' fees, which was "quite difficult" for them in the current financial climate.

Mr Girdwood said it would be "almost impossible" for his school to increase external access to its sports facilities because it did not have its own swimming pool or playing fields, and its games hall was used by its own pupils every day up to 6pm.

MINDS ON THE MONEY

- St George's School for Girls: average senior day school fee #163;10,932. Average senior boarding school fee #163;22,392. Means-tested award of #163;402,904 made to 12.4 per cent of school roll, representing 4.3 per cent of school's available income. Only four pupils received the full 100 per cent award.

- Fettes College: senior day fee #163;20,235. Senior boarding fee #163;27,150. Means-tested award of #163;1,057,344 made to 9.6 per cent of school roll (68 pupils), representing 7 per cent of school's available income.

- St Columba's School senior school fee #163;9,720. Means-tested award of #163;212,510 made to 5.4 per cent of school roll (37 pupils), representing 3.5 per cent of school's available income.

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

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