Plans to scrap private schools' charitable status ditched

Education Secretary Justine Greening

Education Secretary Justine Greening

The Government has ditched plans to scrap the charitable status of private schools if they do not help out neighbouring state comprehensives.

Independent school headteachers had been warned by Ministers they would face 'exacting requirements' in return for claiming lucrative tax breaks.

The schools Green Paper last autumn and the Conservative election manifesto both said private schools would need to sponsor academies, forge formal partnerships with state schools or offer significant numbers of bursaries to disadvantaged pupils.

But it emerged yesterday that the plans have been quietly shelved and the Department for Education has instead launched a new advice service, the System Partnerships Unit.

This is designed to 'encourage' and 'support' independent and state schools, brokering voluntary partnerships across the country.

Ministers have dramatically softened their rhetoric towards private schools, adopting what has been viewed as a 'carrot, not stick' approach.

This was welcomed by independent school leaders, who said it was difficult for initiatives to be successful if their schools were 'being in some way threatened' by Government.

But Liberal Democrat shadow education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, accused Ministers of performing a 'U-turn', insisting that private schools must be able to prove they 'deserve' tax breaks.

Speaking at a London event to celebrate successful cross-sector partnerships, Education Secretary Justine Greening said she wanted to celebrate work already taking place, adding that much of it has been 'hidden under a bushel'.

She told the Independent Schools Council (ISC) reception yesterday: 'The word you will hear a lot of today is partnership. We have to do it working together.

'We as a government also recognise that different independent schools will be able to bring different things to working in partnership and that we shouldn't necessarily expect the same from all schools.

'For some schools, yes, we want to see them becoming sponsors, or opening a free school. For other schools, we want to see them playing a leadership role perhaps by having other involvement around school governance.'

The Government has ditched plans to scrap the charitable status of private schools. Pictured: Eton College

The Government has ditched plans to scrap the charitable status of private schools. Pictured: Eton College

There are also opportunities such as sharing expertise in subject areas or supporting teacher training, she added.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC and former headmaster of Harrow School, said collaborations between the two sectors work best when there is a 'moral responsibility' and schools are working together.

'Partnerships work less well when the only motivation has got something to do with charitable status or acting under perceived pressure from a government,' he said.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents mainly leaders in the state sector, agreed that 'support, not sanctions' drives school improvement.

He added: 'It's carrot, not stick, that ensures that improvement is rapid. Compelling independent schools to work with state schools simply won't work.

'It will lead us to a lowest common denominator and incentivise schools to think, 'what is the least I must do to meet the requirement?', instead of 'what is the most I can do to have the greater impact?'

To qualify as a charity, private schools must demonstrate they provide 'public benefit' to a reasonably wide section of the public, rather than to a narrow group of rich individuals.

Many currently do this by offering generous bursaries and fee discounts to disadvantaged youngsters while others share teachers and facilities or have formal partnerships.

However, last September's Schools That Work For Everyone Green Paper warned that independent schools would be set new benchmarks 'in line with their size and capacity'.

If they did not deliver to these requirements, the government would consider

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