Schools under threat of charity loss

Edinburgh's Merchiston Castle School

By Edmund Brown

Four of Scotland’s top private schools are under threat of losing their charitable status after it was found that the schools are not giving anything back to the community.

Private schools were first given charitable status back in the 17th century based on a law that states the schools must give “relief to poverty” and “benefit the community”. Many schools were set up to help poverty stricken families give their children the opportunity of a better education.

As a result of this charitable status, private schools such as Merchiston castle School in Edinburgh get certain financial benefits, the same benefits of charities Oxfam and Cancer Research. Council tax and other exceptions would have to be paid resulting in school profits plummeting. Merchiston Castle School made a profit of 1.5 million pounds last year as a result of donations and fees paid for tuition. There would be a real chance that these fees would have to go up leading to the payment of taxes that had previously been waived.

The office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) believes that the schools are not offering enough opportunities to the community and feels that by just offering the use of a playing field once a week is not enough.

George Foulkes, MSP for the lothians has written a letter to all private schools in a bid to increase their community work. He said: “The main purpose of this letter is to make sure that if a school is in receipt of charitable status, it is making appropriate contributions to its community.

“Some people think all they need to do is open their playing fields occasionally. I think people from private schools should be encouraged to work in the community.”

The Headmaster of Merchiston Castle School, Andrew Hunter, is disappointed in the OSCR report and feels the school does more than enough charity work than it gets credit for. He states on the Merchiston Castle School website that “we have in recent years been working towards making our education available to a wider range of people. A number of our boys are either partially or fully funded by the school and would otherwise not be able to be educated at Merchiston.”