The Charity Commission has recently published updated guidance for charitable independent schools on how they might fulfil their duty to provide public benefit. On 22 October 2015, a new recommendation of good practice for charitable independent schools was introduced, encouraging trustees of schools to comment in their schools’ annual reports on how they have met their public benefit duty.
The guidance had long encouraged charitable independent schools to share their sports, drama, music and other arts facilities with the local community and state counterparts; it now recommends that specific details of what schools may already be doing in this regard are provided in annual reports.
Trustees should note that there is no change to the Commission’s statutory guidance on how charities can fulfil the requirement to provide a benefit to the public. The Commission has simply updated the section in specific guidance for charitable independent schools entitled “Charging for services: illustrative examples of benefits for the poor” and its example annual report for trustees of such schools.
The guidance follows concerns raised back in July this year in the House of Lords, that independent schools were not doing enough to share their facilities. A proposed amendment to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill was tabled which would have obliged independent schools to “engage actively with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing resources” and would have obliged the Commission to publish guidance with minimum standards on what independent schools should do to comply with their public benefit duty. The amendment was defeated but the Charity Commission assured that it would update its guidance on the matter.
Trustees should note the recommendations in the updated guidance in light of the greater scrutiny that charitable independent schools may face in this area.