On the naughty step - Conduct that deserves a ticking off

21st October 2011 at 01:00

This week: the Charity Commission

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely reason to end up on the naughty step than wanting to help children from poor homes. Yet that's what appears to have happened to the Charity Commission. Hauled up in front of a tribunal by independent schools with fees of many thousands of pounds a year, the commission was told that its rules for passing public benefit tests were too prescriptive.

You see, the charity regulator had wanted independent schools - from the big-hitting household names of Eton and Westminster down to the smallest of prep schools - to offer more bursaries to children whose parents couldn't afford their fees. In return, the schools would get to keep tax breaks worth #163;100 million a year. Sounds like a good deal?

The Independent Schools Council decided not. It said the deal failed to recognise the other work private schools do with their state-sector colleagues: running masterclasses, sharing facilities, and so on.

And the charity tribunal agreed. So, it's back to the drawing board for the commission - or the "charity meddlers", as one paper called them - to work out how to hold private schools to account.

But not before a stint on the step of shame to think long and hard about where it all went wrong.

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