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Public Benefit of Independent Schools

This month the Charity Commission has released guidance on the Charity Commission’s position on issues relating to the public benefit of independent schools via a letter to the Independent Schools Council.  To see the full letter follow this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-benefit-guidance-letter-to-the-isc/letter-to-the-isc-from-the-charity-commission

There have been recent Parliamentary debates relating to Independent Schools and their public benefit. The Charity Commission have published a letter to the ISC establishing their intentions surrounding the promotion of facilities sharing in line with public benefit.

All charity trustees have a duty to ‘have regard’ to the commission’s public benefit guidance when exercising any powers or duties to which the guidance is relevant. Public benefit is part of what it is to be a charity. The charity’s purpose is what it is set up to achieve and this must be beneficial in an identifiable way and outweigh any detriment.  Purpose must also benefit the public in general, or a sufficient section of the public without more than incidental personal benefit. Full guidance is produced by the Charity Commission for charity trustees on each of these aspects of public benefit.

In the Parliamentary debates, Lord Moynihan has argued that some charitable independent schools can do more to share publically their sports, music and arts facilities in order to meet the public benefit requirement. Amendments to the Charities Bill have been tabled to create a new duty for charitable independent schools to share such facilities and the Charity Commission will be required to produce new statutory guidance setting out the minimum that must be done.

The Charity Commission has concerns that these amendments may impact negatively on trustees’ freedom to make decisions about how to appropriately uphold their legal duties in their individual circumstances. As there are 160,000 charities regulated by the Charity Commission, they have to apply legal principles without being prescriptive.

The Charity commission have approached the ISC and outlined their intentions. They intend to consider non legislative options for encouraging facility sharing in line with public benefit. Public Benefit guidance on the CC’s website already has examples of charitable schools providing facility sharing for those who cannot afford the school’s fees. This guidance will be revised to integrate guidance on Trustees’ Annual Reports to include more examples of all types of facility sharing so the schools can consider what they are doing and their reporting.

The Charity Commission also pledges to the ISC to carry out independent research a year after the new publication to assess the impact of initiatives and partnerships created.

The letter states that the ISC also intends to encourage partnerships between state schools and charitable independent schools by creating online facilities to help foster these partnerships and highlight opportunities for mutual appreciation of the facilities.

 

 

Date: 3rd August, 2015
Author: Wendy Bambrick

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