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The majority of independent schools are allowed to hold charitable status, meaning that they enjoy tax relief on VAT and corporation tax, and relief from business rates on the buildings they use.
Indeed, around 586 out of the 1,038 private schools in the country are set to cost the British taxpayer around £522m in tax relief between 2017 and 2022.
This includes Eton College, which educated Cameron and Osborne, and which will pay £821,040 in business rates instead of the full amount, £4.1m. As well, Dulwich College, which educated Nigel Farage, will pay £786,752 as oppose to nearly £4m in business rates,
In accruing charitable status, independent schools have to be established for a charitable purpose (which the advancement of education is) and provide a public benefit pursuant to the Charities Act 2011.
It is a strange charity that works for the benefit of the privileged and the wealthy, and which habitually educates those in the upper echelons of society.
Independent schools are obligated to offer assistance and make themselves more accessible to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or with reduced means. It is therefore perverse then, that bursaries and means-tested assistance is still being offered by private schools to families with incomes up to £140,000 per year.
St Pauls’ School in Barnes offers the financial aid to families with an income up to £120,000. The girls school offers the assistance to families with an income up to £110,000. At King Edward’s School in Birmingham, families earning up to £72,000 can qualify for financial help.
Not only are the definitions for what constitutes a lack of means or a disadvantaged background shifting to become antithetical to means-testing’s purpose, but the prevalence of means-tested financial aid itself is falling.
According to the Independent Schools Council’s 2018 annual census and report, the provision of means-tested scholarships has dropped 9%, from £22m to £20m between 2017 and 2018, whilst the provision of non-means-tested scholarships has risen 7% from £174m to £186m between 2017 and 2018.
At the same time, from 2007, the average independent school has raised its fees by 59%, which is far above inflation, constituting a rise of 29% in real terms.
Increasingly, private schools market themselves as fully enclosed retreats, with vast swathes of land, en-suite dorms, concert halls, dance studios and swimming pools. Pretty plush, one would think, for a supposed charity.
Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner has said that the figures provide further evidence that:
“…the Tories should have stuck to their own manifesto pledge to look again at tax giveaways for private schools. Instead, they are pushing ahead with an education policy for the few at the expense of the many. There will be no meaningful action to get value for the subsidies that benefit private schools. This is a recipe to worsen inequality rather than help social mobility. […] The next Labour government will invest in all our schools and end the VAT exemption for private school fees to fund free school meals for every primary school child.”
The trend in independent schools burgeoning into swollen, steroid-infused, monstrous parodies of themselves, both in terms of the lavish facilities they acquire and provide, and the exploding fees they charge, is one that mirrors the societal trend generally under the Tories.
As charities, the figures highlight that independent schools are not doing their job – and are clearly not providing value for money for the public purse. It appears they serve only to educate the privileged so that they may hop off the educational conveyor belt into positions of wealth, influence and power.
Independent schools are serving merely as state-subsidised training institutions for the highest stratas of society, making use of tax breaks to further entrench their obscene privilege and the obscene advantage of their alumni and alumnae.