Scotland’s leading private schools have been given the green light to keep operating as charities, after their status came under threat because they were too exclusive.
The charities watchdog has published a summary of its eight-year inquiry into dozens of independent schools. It confirmed that ten top schools – including former prime minister Tony Blair’s old school, Fettes College in Edinburgh – which had previously fallen short of the charity status, were now meeting key tests.
Independent schools’ chiefs said they had undergone a “long and often difficult process” to meet the new hard-line regime which was drawn up by the Scottish Parliament in 2005.
A sweeping review of 52 private schools in Scotland since 2007 resulted in ten failing to meet the charity standard because their fees were too high and “restricted access to the educational benefits”. They were set a deadline to make changes and comply with the rules and yesterday’s report confirmed that this has been achieved.
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A report by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) said: “All ten charities took action to meet the test within the required timescale, are now compliant with the requirements of charity law, and continue to have charitable status. The actions the charities took included increases in the support they provided for those unable to pay the fees, and increasing the amount of educational benefit provided without charge.”
Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow, Lomond School in Helensburgh, Edinburgh’s Merchiston Castle School and St Leonards School in St Andrews all failed the test during the 2007-9 tranche of reviews because their fees were too high. A fifth, Jordanhill School in Glasgow, failed because it was under the control of Scottish ministers.
In another round of reviews after 2012, Fettes College in the capital, as well as St Columba’s School in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, St George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh, Ayr’s Wellington School and Loretto School, Musselburgh, all failed the charity test over the issue of fees and the low level of bursaries on offer to pupils from poorer backgrounds.
John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), welcomed the findings, which made clear all ten schools under threat now met the charity test. He said: “This report details the long and often difficult process for schools to meet a test that was designed, legislated for and implemented in the Scottish Parliament.
“OSCR makes clear the schools have a good awareness of what is required of them and, crucially, that they have undergone more ‘rigorous and in-depth scrutiny’ than any other group of Scottish charities.”
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Individual schools have been fully addressed prior to the award of charitable status. If schools do not meet the criteria, they fail the test. That is exactly as it should be.”
A total of 27,705 pupils in Scotland attended a day private school in 2013, according to the SCIS, while a further 3,441 were boarders.
About one in 20 children in Scotland is educated at private schools, although the figure in Edinburgh is nearer one in four.
Fees in Scotland have rocketed by 20 per cent, a recent report found, to more than £10,000 in the past five years.
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