Private schools unbowed over possible loss of charitable status

Credit: This story was first seen on The Daily Mail 

Top private schools are refusing to cave in to government plans that could force them to set up and run new state schools, The Daily Mail reports.

Heads from some of Britain’s most expensive schools, including Eton and Harrow, have been warned they could lose their charitable status – worth about £150m a year in tax breaks – unless they do more to help less privileged families, including setting up schools.

But an influential body that represents the leading schools says it is prepared to withdraw its co-operation with the government rather than be bullied – even if it means sacrificing charitable status.

In an exclusive article for The Mail on Sunday, Mike Buchanan, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), warns that ‘no one wants the nuclear option’, but says private schools lack the expertise to run those in the state sector. He claims that a consequence of the government scrapping the charitable status of private schools would be that they will no longer be able to help many poor children who are granted subsidised places under bursary schemes.

The warning comes as Theresa May prepares to publish details of her controversial ‘grammar revolution’ to introduce the first new state selectives for more than half a century – as well as boosting the role of private schools.

The plans follow chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget which included a £320m boost to fund up to 140 new free schools during this Parliament, with the majority earmarked as selective.

Under the plans, existing and new grammars will be expected to do more to end the middle-class stranglehold on selective schools. Whitehall sources have also suggested low income pupils could be given free places in fee-paying schools if there are no grammars nearby.

Under such a scheme, the government would pay the money normally needed to educate a child at a state grammar – about £5,500 a year – direct to the private school, which would make up the shortfall in its fees in bursaries.

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In a joint article with Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, Mr Buchanan makes clear their co-operation relies on No. 10 listening to concerns and dropping its ‘misguided and patronising’ attitude.

Although private schools are keen to increase help for their state counterparts, Mr Buchanan says they cannot become accountable to the government for their success or failure as that would undermine their independence.