Friday, 18 March 2011

The attack on private education – introducing the Education Review Group

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Many readers will be aware of the Charity Commission’s review of how – or whether – private schools with charitable status apply that status in terms of providing “public benefit”. You will also appreciate that the review was motivated primarily by political objectives rather than by any suggestion that these schools lacked charitable purpose.

There is to be a Charity Tribunal to address this matter – essentially removing decisions from the Charity Commission itself – prompted by Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General:

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has asked the charity tribunal to clarify how charity law should operate in relation to fee-charging independent schools.

The move has been prompted by the long-standing dissatisfaction of the Independent Schools Council about the Charity Commission's guidance on public benefit, which it says is a misinterpretation of the law.

This Tribunal will consider the narrow questions raised by Mr Grieve as well as the judicial review requested by the ISC. The hearing is scheduled for May.

The latest turn in this story has been the addition of the Education Review Group (ERG) as a party to the hearing on private schools and public benefit. The ERG is described as:

“...a body set up to advise the Charity Commission on public benefit in the education sector.”

So, one would assume, a carefully balanced group of experts drawn from academia, the law and education. And on the face of it this is the case – until you see who is involved:

Fiona Millar, Writer and former Special Advisor, School Governor
Melissa Benn, writer on education issues


From school meals to school selection policies, Margaret Tulloch has been a tireless campaigner for state education for half a lifetime.

The ERG consists of a name check for opponents of private education and supported of comprehensive schools. It is not – despite the presence of a raft of academics – remotely balanced. So it will come as no surprise that its evidence to the tribunal is highly critical of private schools:

"Private schools have significant ‘disbenefits’ to society: for example, by removing able and committed pupils from the state sector and by being one of the most significant barriers to social mobility," it says.

"For this reason, they cannot show public benefit by pointing to debatable or nebulous wider benefits, such as saving money for the state or providing well-educated pupils."

The ERG presents these – and a range of other misleading and sweeping statements – as “facts” to be considered by the Tribunal.  However, what really concerns me here is the clear evidence that the Charity Commission did set out to remove charitable status from private schools and, through the ERG, created a ‘front organisation’ to advise it made up entirely from opponents of private education, selection, grammar schools and adequate school discipline. The very people whose influence condemned – and continues to condemn – tens of thousands of children to a life of semi-literacy and menial jobs.

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1 comment:

Phil said...

I'm particularly amused by the claim that it's private schools who "remove able and committed pupils from the state sector", but if they mentioned the parents that wouldn't fit their goal.