Merchiston School Must Take Further Action To Retain Charity Status.

Debbie Smith

Merchiston Castle School, has been ordered this morning by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to follow their “direction” if they wish to remain on the Scottish Charity’s Register.

Merchiston School for boys receives £11m income per year, largely generated from fees, the fourth highest in the independent school sector. With such huge revenue, concern has been raised as to whether independent schools should be allowed to benefit from huge tax rebates worth more than £4m to the sector per year, as a result of their position on the charities register.

Andrew Hunter, Headmaster of Merchiston Castle School, said: “Although the charity, Merchiston Castle School, functions primarily as a school, consistent with the Objects for which it was founded, it is involved in many other activities which are of public benefit.”

To be classified as a charity school’s must offer some public benefit. The review by the OSCR has been welcomed as it will force educational institutions to clearly show what they do to benefit the wider community. The offering of scholarships is no longer enough to be considered a charity.

At Merchiston School bursaries worth up to £1m over five years are awarded to academically talented boys who otherwise would be unable to attend as a result of generous sponsoring of former pupil, Lord Laidlaw.  The OSCR states that financial support must be increased if their “direction” is to be followed.

The OSCR did however recognise the good work that the school undertakes in the community. Pupils have been involved in the creation of landscape gardens for Colinton Conservative Trust and a wildlife garden at the Erskine Home. Further afield, this summer they will embark on their 7th voluntary service project in Wailevu District in Fiji. In the past, groups of about 12 boys have worked in Fiji during their summer holidays on a variety of projects to help the local community, including building a bus shelter and the rebuilding of communal taps and showers. They also maintain close links with St Luke’s Leprosarium and a Boys’ Orphanage in India; both these institutions are sent cricket equipment annually.

Headmaster Andrew Hunter added: “It is very important that as part of their education at Merchiston our boys learn about service to the community, and we are delighted that OSCR recognises the good work that pupils and teachers do to provide a benefit to the public.  This is an integral, and growing, part of our curriculum which we believe teaches important lessons to our pupils, while serving our community, and we hope it will be something they continue in later life.”