Head Challenges Government in Academies Debate
The Head of a Nottingham private junior school has challenged the government to "develop a state education sector to mirror the success of the independent education sector" after claims that many private schools are failing to fulfil their original charitable purpose.
Mr Keith Morrow, Headmaster of The Elms Nursery and Junior School, insists comments made by former Schools Minister, Lord Adonis, last month in which he urged private schools to get involved in academies as part of their charitable responsibility, were misplaced and argued there were many reasons independent schools were not duty bound to sponsor academies.
Mr Morrow insists the vast majority of independent schools - which as educational charities get tax benefits and have to demonstrate their wider public benefit to the Charity Commission – do demonstrate their 'public benefit' in a variety of ways, including through bursary schemes to widen social access and diversity to a first class independent education.
And he believes the continuing debate and fall-out from Lord Adonis' comments just highlights how fiercely the private sector values its independence and why.
Mr Morrow said: "Lord Adonis overlooked some very important factors when criticising the apparent lack of appetite from the independent sector in not jumping into bed with the government over sponsoring academies. Firstly independent schools are exactly that, independent from government interference in terms of curriculum and how they operate. It is what has enabled independent schools to meet the aspirational needs of pupils and parents for many generations.
"Secondly, Britain is still feeling the consequences of the financial crisis. Many independent schools are simply not in a position to give away their income from fee-paying parents and let the government off the hook in terms of adequately funding state education.
"Thirdly, and crucial to any argument about why should independent schools enjoy some small benefits from the taxation system, is the notion that independent schools, which receive no state funding, save the Exchequer and the taxpayer an estimated £7b per year.
"The real question, therefore, is why are parents willing to pay twice for the education of their children? What is it independent schools do so well that some parents make huge financial sacrifices in order to send their children? When the government has developed a state education sector to mirror the success of the independent education sector, parents will make their choices accordingly and the arguments of charitable status will be defunct."
The charitable status of independent schools has been under the political microscope ever since a judicial review of the Charity Commission last year sought to change the legal definition of what constitutes a charity. The independent education sector successfully argued there is no 'one size fits all' model of charitable engagement but still the spotlight is on independent schools to vigorously justify their charitable status.
Mr Morrow said demonstrating 'public benefit' can be as diverse as running subject master classes, sharing campus facilities with local organisations, fundraising for local and national charities, involvement with education projects overseas, holding community or field days supporting local charitable groups and children with special needs.
He added: "If some independent schools have a willingness to sponsor government-funded academies that's their prerogative but the sector as a whole shouldn't feel obliged to follow."