Independent schools abandoning charity status

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Independent schools are increasingly finding ways to abandon charity status, according to recent reports.

The Independent Schools Council reported in its annual census that only 75 per cent of schools have charitable status, and its figures show this percentage has been falling gradually but steadily for a decade. The figure is down from 83 per cent, which is roughly where it stood for several decades.

The decrease is partly down to the fact that new schools are tending not to establish themselves as charities. But lawyers working in the sector say they have increasingly been asked by schools to sell their assets to overseas companies, and use the proceeds to establish charitable trusts to support education.

The ISC said that 32 of the new schools which joined its membership were non-charity schools. “In addition, 9 existing schools changed their legal status from charitable to non-charitable this year,” the ISC said. “No schools converted the other way.”

Independent schools have faced a steady increase of pressure on their charitable status over the past few years, and there have been warnings that this would push them out of the sector.

Two years ago Theresa May promised to consult on stricter Charity Commission guidance for charities, and a year ago Mike Buchanan, the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, another of the umbrella bodies for the independent schools sector, warned that if government tried to enforce the changes, schools would “walk away”.

Since then the Scottish government has stripped 52 independent charitable schools of the right to tax relief on their business rates.

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