On 9 September 2016, Theresa May gave a speech which set out her reforming vision for the school system in England, which she hopes will create a more meritocratic country. The headlines focussed on the lifting of the ban on new grammar schools, but the third of her four proposals related to Independent Schools – to “encourage some of our biggest independent schools to bring their knowledge, expertise and resources to bear to help improve the quality and capacity of schools for those who cannot afford to pay”.
Mrs May indicated that she would seek to deliver this proposal by consulting on how to amend the Charity Commission guidance for Independent Schools, to enact a “tougher test” on the amount of public benefit required to maintain charitable status, in return for them retaining their charity tax reliefs. Mrs May suggested that :
“Smaller independent schools who do not have the capacity to take on full sponsorship of a local state school will be asked to provide more limited help such as direct school-to-school support where appropriate. This could include supporting teaching in minority subjects such as further maths or classics, which state schools often struggle to make viable. It could include ensuring their senior leaders become directors of multi-academy trusts; providing greater access to their facilities and providing sixth-form scholarships to a proportion of pupils in year 11 at each local school.”
The Charity Commission’s Guidance “Charging for Services: Illustrative Examples of Benefits for the Poor” was only recently updated in October 2015 and many of the benefits suggested by the Prime Minister are already contained in the Guidance. For the large number of Independent Schools which have demonstrated their public benefit in the manner proposed by Mrs May for some years, it is unclear what is “new” about her proposals. So, we will have to wait and see whether the Charity Commission’s Guidance is to change again and become more prescriptive.