Education & Family

Private schools urged to back academies by Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis
Image caption Lord Adonis is regarded as one of the main architects of the academies programme

Many private schools are failing to fulfil their original charitable purpose, Lord Adonis warns.

The former schools minister said the independent sector must not separate itself from state education and called on them to get involved in academies.

He said the trustees of private schools should look at their charitable values as a "matter of conscience and duty".

The Independent Schools Council said its schools showed their responsibility in a "rich variety of ways".

Lord Adonis served as schools minister under the previous Labour government and is regarded as one of the main architects of the academies programme.

These schools are semi-independent schools, funded by the state, with freedom over areas such as the curriculum and staff pay and conditions.

Most fee-paying schools are charities and the status brings tax benefits.

However, as educational charities, they have to demonstrate to the Charity Commission a wider public benefit, beyond that to their own pupils and must provide more than a token benefit to those from less affluent backgrounds.

Charitable missions

Speaking ahead of the London Festival of Education, Lord Adonis said: "To those in the private school world who are reluctant to embrace academies, I appeal to their professionalism and their charitable missions.

"It was excusable to stand apart from state-funded education when the state did not want them engaged in the first place. But that is the isolationist politics of the past.

"With the academies programme, supported across the political spectrum, they have an opportunity to engage in state-funded education without compromising their independence, renewing for the 21st century their essential moral and charitable purposes."

Lord Adonis said leading private schools, such as Harrow and Eton, were all set up for charitable reasons.

"I could go on through the founding charters of hundreds of private schools. It shouldn't take the Charity Commission to challenge private school foundations about their charitable missions," he said.

"Their trustees and governors should look to them constantly as a matter of conscience and duty. With each passing decade many of these schools have become more not less exclusive, and for generations now, few of them have done anything radical to reconnect with their charitable purposes.

"Most of them are seeking to provide a few more bursaries. But this is hardly enough when they could also be running academies whose central purpose is the very mission for which their assets were originally intended."

'No single moral compass'

Matthew Burgess, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council said: "Lord Adonis draws attention to our sector's longevity and, in so doing, demonstrates why many are right to be wary of government-sponsored, totemic policies - particularly when they are painted as moral duties.

"The courts recognised last year, in upholding our judicial review of the Charity Commission, that there is no 'one size fits all' model of charitable engagement.

"The diversity of the sector simply means that there can be no single moral compass pointing unwaveringly in the direction of the government's academy programme.

"Instead, there is a rich variety of ways in which schools live up to their responsibility to reach out and serve those who do not pay fees.

"In 2011/12, ISC schools supported almost 40,000 children on means-tested bursaries with an annual value of £284m and over 1,000 ISC schools were working in partnership with state schools and their local communities."

Tony Little, head of Eton College, said his school had been "doing its duty for many, many years by providing substantial financial support to those who cannot afford the fees".

He said it was "developing new initiatives with state schools all the time".

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