Passing the charity test

13th May 2005 at 01:00
It is a shame that you did not check your facts before publishing your editorial on independent schools and charitable status (TESS, April 29).

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) has welcomed the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill as a means of ensuring a robust, proportionate and transparent regulatory framework for charities in Scotland. Like all other charities in Scotland, independent schools will have to pass a "charity test". To do this, they will have to show that (a) they exist for a "charitable purpose" - in this case, for the advancement of education - and (b) that they provide public benefit.

SCIS believes that independent schools will meet the charity test.

Independent schools are deeply committed to the advancement of education, are not run for profit or for personal gain and have a long tradition of charitable giving.

The Bill sets out the criteria against which the regulator will determine public benefit. The amendment put forward by John Home Robertson to the draft Bill on charges or fees not being "unduly restrictive" was implicit in the Bill from the outset.

The fees charged by any charitable organisation - not just independent schools - should be reasonable and justifiable. School fees are set by each individual school at the level needed to provide the education, care, facilities and opportunities they provide. Broadly speaking, independent school fees are in line with the costs of educating a child in the state sector in Scotland. Boarding school fees are also comparable with charges made for residential places in local authority settings.

To help make their schools accessible to the wider public, independent schools have a strong tradition of supporting families from diverse backgrounds through bursaries and scholarships and actively raise funds for this purpose.

The figures used in your leader are correct but incomplete. If you take the cost of educating 31,000 pupils plus the funds distributed in scholarships and bursaries by the schools, the independent sector actually saves the country over 35 times as much as it receives in financial benefits through charitable status.

The issue, however, is far wider than these figures suggest. Public benefit embraces the concept of contributing to society, through education, community service, charitable giving, citizenship and the economy - as schools will be able to demonstrate to the regulator.

We have never claimed that independent schools are unique in their public benefit character and local authority schools are not charities for reasons quite unconnected with public benefit. Under the new legislation, education remains a charitable purpose and it is right that it should always remain so.

Independent schools broaden the choice available to parents, pupils and teachers and are acutely conscious of their duty to society.

Judith Sischy Director Scottish Council of Independent Schools

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