Leader: Private schools still have charitable part to play

THE history of many Scottish non-state schools goes back centuries, to a time when wealthy, philanthropic individuals like George Heriot, George Watson and Thomas and George Hutcheson established charitable institutions to educate children who would otherwise be denied a proper schooling. Although the majority of parents pay for the privilege of a private education, through school foundations the charitable principle thankfully still very much exists today.

But when the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) began scrutinising private schools to see if they met the test of providing public benefit, principally helping pupils from lower income families and being active in their local community, the accusation was that the move was politically motivated – to deny taxation benefits coming from charitable status to elitist institutions.

Today OSCR is expected to rule a further four schools have passed the test, and although the claim of one source that the process was a “shambles”, an examination is in the long term a positive move.

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Are the schools elitist? In many respects almost certainly. Is this a problem? Almost certainly not. Should talented children be denied access just because their parents can’t afford the fees? Absolutely not.

Schools fulfilling charitable obligations have nothing to fear and those falling foul have re-thought the way they work and that must be welcomed. These schools lead the way in so many fields and that must continue.