Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Private schools

The Scotsman reports that private schools are likely to lose their charitable status under reforms to charities law, a change that could force many of them out of business.

Scots schools stripped of their charitable status will not suffer an automatic change in their tax status, but it will leave them vulnerable. If changes in English charity law are modelled on the Scottish bill, as is thought likely, then the Inland Revenue - which must apply laws UK-wide - will be able to step in and schools would face potentially ruinous tax bills, even though this clause was designed to deter dubious private tax shelters.

I have little doubt that this policy is being put into place for the furtherance of the class war rather than a desire to improve society in any way, but I also think that there's a valid argument that provision of education to the children of the rich is not a charitable activity. Now many private schools apparently give out bursaries to the able children of poor families, but I doubt if this is on a large enough scale to change their character in a fundamental way. I would argue that they are not in fact charities, but businesses, and a good thing too, as businesses tend to be most responsive to consumers.

I'm also somewhat doubtful about whether private schooling will end once this legislation is in place. Many private schools are not in fact charities, but are profit making businesses, like the GEMS schools. If the charitable schools fail, it may well be that they are taken over by commercial education providers and that business continues under new owners.

However it is probable that a commercial provider with shareholders to satisfy might not have the same inclination to provide bursaries to poorer children. I think that the law of unintended consequences will once more mean that a route out of poverty for the children of deprived families is removed by the very Labour party that claims to speak for them.

Grammar schools. Assisted place scheme. Bursaries. There is a trend here isn't there? Labour always acts to stop the poor from bettering themselves. And they call the Conservatives the nasty party.