Private schools which are registered as charities could be forced to show they benefit the public under government plans.
About 80% of independent schools are listed as charities, gaining tax benefits. Under the draft Charities Bill just published, those seeking charitable status will have to show they benefit "the public at large". The plans could put pressure on fee-paying schools to offer more places to children from less well-off families. Independent Schools say they are confident they can be seen as benefiting the public.
Jonathan Shephard, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that public schools could demonstrate they were doing enough to benefit the public at large.
"We educate half a million children at no cost to the taxpayer. If the taxpayer had to pay for those children, it would add 2bn to the tax bill," he said.
Under the Bill, the Charity Commission would be expected to devise a test of "public benefit" which all charities would be expected to pass. Fiona MacTaggart, the Home Office Minister with responsibility for charities, said the point of the Bill was to make sure charities' abilities to do good are protected. "We must protect the charity brand so that people are confident about giving money to charities and know what is and isn't a charity," she said.
Ms Mactaggart rejected claims that fee-charging institutions, such as independent schools or private hospitals, do not serve the public interest because they are not available to all. "I do not believe that charging means you do not automatically provide a public benefit," she said.
Earlier in May, public schools were warned they could lose their charitable status unless they did more to help their local communities. Some do already open up their facilities to neighbouring state schools or the community in general. The government is trying to encourage co-operation and sharing of resources and even lessons between state and private schools. Dulwich College has announced plans to open its own state comprehensive in east London.
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