Job perks fall flat as independents strive to pass public benefit test

18th December 2009 at 00:00
Union warns that Charity Commission's rules mean private-sector teachers are missing out

Independent school teachers are losing out on benefits such as free and subsidised accommodation as schools strive to meet the demands of the Charity Commission's public benefit test.

The biggest union for the independent sector has warned that some teachers are also missing out on reduced fees for their own children, as schools attempt to provide more and larger means-tested bursaries.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has said that teachers must not be the ones to suffer as schools fight to keep their charitable status and related tax breaks.

According to a survey by the ATL, one school has evicted staff from its on-site lodgings and converted them into private lets in order to pay for more bursaries without raising fees during the recession.

The anonymous survey of 1,395 teachers found that one school had even made staff redundant to pay for bursaries.

The news that teachers could be missing out comes as another blow to independent school staff, some of whom have already taken pay cuts of up to 15 per cent to save their jobs during the downturn.

The union has recorded at least nine full closures of private schools this year, and eight mergers.

The issue of bursaries came to a head in the summer when two prep schools failed a pilot version of the public benefit test on the basis that they did not provide enough.

A storm of debate followed over which activities should count as "public benefit".

Many schools argued that their wider efforts in the community - lending teachers or facilities - should count just as much as offering free and part-funded places for children from poorer families.

David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, even threatened to launch a legal battle against the commission over what should count.

David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, warned members not to rush to provide more bursaries as it could lead to a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of staff cuts and closures as schools overstretched themselves.

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, stoked the flames in October when she told headteachers they would have five years to meet the requirements of the public benefit test.

But this has not deterred some schools from introducing and publicising their efforts to provide "public benefit" through generous bursary schemes.

Bilton Grange Prep School in Dunchurch, Warwickshire, announced this week that it is among the first preps to offer a 105 per cent bursary - to help pay for uniform and other expenses as well as fees.

The ATL survey, which asked teachers what their schools were doing to meet the public benefit requirements, also found that many were trying to improve relationships with state schools. Some were sending in teachers to give masterclasses in drama and sport, or even lending a teacher of Mandarin to a state school.

Malcolm St John-Smith, chair of ATL's independent sector advisory group, said: "We are encouraged at the news of all the co-operation going on, but schools must not negate the good they are doing in the community by making detrimental changes to staff terms and conditions."


How teachers might miss out because of public benefit test:

- Reduction in the number of free and subsidised lodgings;

- Reduced availability of subsidised fees for their own children;

- Job losses;

- Having to teach larger classes;

- Pay cuts.

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