Public schools threaten legal action

By Liz Stephens

The head of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) warned today that it may consider legal action against the Charity Commission’s new ‘means testing’ for charitable status.

The organisation, which represents the country’s top independent schools, is angry about the recent moves to force private schools to open up their facilities to more pupils from low-income homes or face losing their tax breaks.

Public schools currently receive concessions worth over £100 million every year.

David Lyscom, chief executive of ISC said the Charity Commission was wilfully misinterpreting the Charity Act of 2006.

“There is the potential to test this in the courts. That’s a major and expensive step to take. So at the moment we’re not saying we’ll definitely do it, but it is an option we may have to consider,” he said.

The news comes as two independent schools were threatened with having their charitable status taken away following an inspection by the commission.

The two schools, St Anselm’s in Derbyshire and Highfield Priory in Lancashire, have been given a year to take in more disadvantaged children from their communities, or risk losing their charity status altogether.

Mr Lyscom condemned the commission for failing to specify how many bursaries a school needed to provide to meet the test.

He warned that without private schools “the public would have to pay between £3bn and £4bn a year in extra taxes.”

“The independent sector now provides almost half of all special educational needs. these are the future leaders, movers and shakers who will give the UK economic success in the future.”

However, former shadow home secretary David Davis recently criticised the abolition of grammar schools for creating a ‘dominance’ of public school boys in top jobs which had “handicapped the intellectual capacity of the country”.

Andrew Hind chief executive of the Charity Commission defended their new inspections saying: “We have always said that we would work with any of the charities that are not currently meeting the requirement and that charities are being looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

He said the majority of private charities that had been assessed had met the test and private schools were already taking steps to show the public what wider benefit they bring.