Following the defeat in the House of Lords of a proposed new clause in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill 2015 enforcing certain public benefit obligations on independent schools, the Charity Commission has updated its public benefit guidance for fee-charging educational charities (including charitable independent schools, universities and colleges).
Peers had questioned the public benefit of charitable independent schools and argued that many of them could do more to share their facilities for sports, music and the art with maintained schools. An amendment was proposed which would require the Charity Commission to publish statutory guidance on the minimum that charitable independent schools must do.
Nevertheless, the proposed amendment was defeated after the Charity Commission gave assurances that it would take a non-legislative approach. Lord Bridges for the government also highlighted that if particular duties in relation to public benefit were placed on one type of charity, it could lead to the same for other types of charities.
Following the defeat of the amendment, the Charity Commission published a letter to the Independent Schools Council (the 'ISC') stating that, whilst it disagreed with placing additional duties on particular types of charities, it did 'recognise the spirit of these proposals and the intentions behind them.' Accordingly, the Charity Commission promised to revise its guidance and publish independent research a year later to assess the impact of the guidance in increasing partnerships between charitable schools and the state sector.
The revised guidance encourages trustees of independent schools to comment on, or outline, in their annual reports their 'individual approaches to public benefit in sports, drama, music and the arts._' The Charity Commission state that _'this is not mandatory but it is viewed as good practice.' The guidance already included a list of activities which a fee-charging school, college or university may provide.
The Charity Commission has updated its sample trustees' annual report for a charitable independent school to include a more detailed summary of how the school is sharing its sports, drama, music and arts facilities.
The ISC has said that independent schools have a long tradition of sharing facilities and expertise and that, whilst 'the Charity Commission's new guidance won't change this work, [it] will encourage schools to highlight the full range of activity already taking place, which is perhaps not widely reported.'
Trustees of charitable fee charging educational institutions must be aware of how their facilities and expertise are being made available to the public and ensure that this information is accurately recorded in their annual report.