Independent schools deserve backing
The latest comments on charitable status and independent schools (“Strip private schools of charitable status”, 15 September) are all part of healthy political debate. But genuine and long-held differences of opinion regarding independent education should not be hid behind the proxy of charitable status.
MSPs from several political parties came together to set the UK’s strictest test of public benefit, aimed directly and specifically at independent schools, when the legislation was debated in 2005. Meeting the requirements of that test, and subsequently passing it, has been a long, intensive and challenging process for many schools. It seems counter- productive to seek to move the goal-posts at half-time, rather than allowing the independent charity regulator to complete its scrutiny.
Schools have charitable status because they are established for public benefit purposes – indeed some have been working for charitable purposes for several centuries and have helped shape understanding of public benefit. That charitable purpose is usually “the advancement of education” – something they manifestly and inarguably promote. Public benefit is not a compliance issue. Schools are charities by definition, and public benefit is an integral part of their charitable composition.
On that basis, there is no justification for treating charitable independent schools differently to other charities – particularly fee-charging ones – for the purposes of taxation. In relation to VAT, for instance, independent schools are in a considerably worse position to state schools (or academies south of the Border) as they are unable to reclaim VAT and, as the Charity Tax Group demonstrated in 2011, the cost of irrecoverable VAT is many millions of pounds each year.
It has become commonplace to dismiss independent schools as, in some way, a breed apart from “proper” charities. Pupils, parents, support staff and teachers in these Scottish schools find this, and the recurrent insinuation of tax avoidance as both deeply inaccurate and highly offensive. We should be supporting what works and moving forward together for all of Scotland’s children.
Scottish Council of Independent Schools
According to Labour MSP Neil Findlay, independent schools – which educate a significant proportion of children in Scotland at no expense to the taxpayer – should be charged for the privilege of doing so by paying rates.
Surely any politician facing the considerable challenge of raising educational standards in Scotland should be profoundly grateful that excellent education is provided to so many children without public expense, leaving them to focus their attention and resources on those schools where standards might not be so high.
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