Independent schools’ facilities: public benefit

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 7 January 2016.

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‘In section 4 of the Charities Act 2011 (the public benefit requirement), after subsection (4) insert—

‘(5) Independent schools which are charities must engage actively with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing resources and facilities.

(6) The Charity Commission must publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools which are charities must do to comply with the duty in subsection (5).’.’—

This New Clause would require independent schools to engage with their local communities and state schools to share resources and facilities.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 4—Independent schools’ sports facilities: public benefit—

‘In section 4 of the Charities Act 2011 (the public benefit requirement), after subsection (4) insert—

‘(5) Independent schools which are charities must engage fully with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing sports facilities and coaching expertise.

(6) The Charity Commission must publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools which are charities must do to comply with the duty in subsection (5).’’

This New Clause would require independent schools to engage with their local communities and state schools to share sports resources and facilities.

New clause 5—Independent schools’ music and arts facilities: public benefit—

‘In section 4 of the Charities Act 2011 (the public benefit requirement), after subsection (4) insert—

‘(5) Independent schools which are charities must engage fully with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing facilities for music, drama and arts.

(6) The Charity Commission must publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools which are charities must do to comply with the duty in subsection (5).’’

This New Clause would require independent schools to engage with their local communities and state schools to share music resources and facilities.

New clause 6—Independent schools’ careers advice: public benefit—

‘In section 4 of the Charities Act 2011 (the public benefit requirement), after subsection (4) insert—

‘(5) Independent schools which are charities must engage fully with local communities and state schools with a view to careers advice, work experience and further education admissions advice.

(6) The Charity Commission must publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools which are charities must do to comply with the duty in subsection (5).’’

This New Clause would require independent schools to engage with their local communities and state schools to share careers advice, work experience opportunities and further education admissions.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am sure that Members will be sick of my voice today, not the Minister’s! I rise to speak in support of new clause 3 and, for ease, I will also speak to all the new clauses in the group. New clause 3 would ensure that independent schools that wish to benefit from charitable status engage actively with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing resources and facilities. Again, I must pay tribute to the noble lords in the other place who supported the new clauses, particularly Lord Moynihan, sports Minister under Margaret Thatcher and chairman of the British Olympic Association between 2005 and 2012. For that reason, I was surprised to hear the new clauses criticised as “prejudiced and outdated” by the Secretary of State for Education in the media last night.

The vast majority of independent schools in this country—more than 2,000—benefit from charitable status, meaning that independent schools are effectively publicly subsidised by taxpayers whose children do not attend such schools to the tune of £700 million a year in the form of charitable rate relief. Charitable status for private schools may have made sense when many were established prior to the introduction of compulsory education. Many of them were set up to educate “poor and indigent boys”. Harrow, for example, was set up as a grammar school by instinct of charity to educate the needy, but the world has changed.

Seventy years ago, after the Education Act 1944, Conservative Education Minister Rab Butler reflected:

“The public schools are saved and must now be made to do their bit.”

I argue that that bit has not been sufficiently done. Sadly, despite the fantastic work taking place in many of our state schools and the strong investment and reform programme put in place under the previous Labour Government, which transformed state school achievement, the reality is that the gap is still too broad.

Independent schools remain one of the most significant bulwarks of social inequality in this country and continue to entrench privilege and hamper social mobility. Young people from independent schools, who make up 7% of their age group, take up nearly 50% of the places at Oxford and Cambridge, with the subsequent statistical likelihood of earning more and being more likely to be in professional employment within six months. Within the professions, 71% of senior judges, 62% of our senior armed forces and 55% of civil service departmental heads attended independent schools, compared with just 7% of the population.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I want to be clear about the case that the hon. Lady is making. It is certainly not in the new clause, but is she saying that she is an opponent of independent schools and that they should be abolished? It would be helpful to understand that.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I appreciate the Minister’s intervention. I am a realist and a pragmatist in all things. I recognise the huge contribution made to this country by many independent schools, faith schools and other schools that would not necessarily be my first choice for my children. I am not advocating their abolition, but rather that they should deliver over and above what they currently do and justify taxpayers’ money supporting them through their charitable status.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

The hon. Lady is making some interesting points, and it might surprise her to know that I do not disagree with a lot of them. The best independent schools do exactly what the Bill proposes. Tonbridge School in my constituency does exactly that. Lord Moynihan is a very wise man, because he sends his children to Tonbridge School and appreciates what really good independent schools can, and indeed should, do.

I would argue strongly that it is not independent schools that have caused the division in society to which the hon. Lady refers, but rather the withdrawal of the ladder for the many others. The very best schools in my constituency—I must declare an interest: I am a governor of Hillview, a non-selective secondary school—do indeed provide that ladder and reduce the social division to which she refers. It is therefore not simply a question of identifying an independent school; it is about an entire educational range.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. We have seen the damage that selective education has done, and the pulling up of the ladder has had a quite devastating impact. I do not believe that it is acceptable. Having been educated in Kent—I am going back to far too long ago—I have a strong view that there was quite a divisive approach to education in that county. Selective education is damaging to social mobility, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to challenge that in all its forms. I also recognise that many independent schools do an extremely good job in supporting the state sector.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

Just for the record, I actually do support selective education.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman supports state education—

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

To clarify, the new clauses are about trying to get better value for the public from private and selective education. To use a previous argument of the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling, where taxpayers’ money is—

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

—taken by force and given to selective education, we need to ensure that the public who pay for it get full value for it.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I totally agree, and I will come on to that point shortly. I want to make it clear that my view of pulling up the ladder is selective education, but I will move on, because we can have a whole conversation outside the Committee on that. I agree with the good work that many independent schools are doing; it is just not enough, in my view.

A recent report by the Social Market Foundation showed that UK children who are privately educated are likely to earn almost £200,000 more between the ages of 26 and 42 than those in state schools. Independent schools seem to be stretching further away from even middle-class families, who have been priced out of private education because of an “endless queue” of wealthy people from outside Britain pushing up fees. Andrew Halls, the head teacher of King’s College School in Wimbledon, south-west London, recently said that local lawyers, accountants and military officers had stopped sending their children to the school because of the costs. He said that in many cases, such schools have become

“finishing schools for the children of oligarchs”.

It is simply not appropriate that while the social and financial advantages to independent school pupils persists, they are subsidised by the British taxpayer through the charitable status. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove made the point that I was going to make about the view of the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling on value for money. Charitable status is now an outdated and inappropriate financial privilege that is impossible to justify without substantial action from independent schools, which is what the new clauses seek to achieve.

Charitable status currently means that trustees of school charities have a responsibility to ensure they are running the school for the public benefit. Public benefit is part of what it means to be a charity, to operate as a charity and to report on a charity’s work. The Charity Commission produces guidance for charity trustees on each of those aspects of public benefit and the particular issues that relate to the different charitable purposes that the law recognises. All charity trustees have a duty to have regard to the Commission’s public benefit guidance and must report each year on how they have carried out their charity’s purposes for the public benefit. The Commission publishes those reports on the online public register of charities and checks a random sample of them. Trustees must therefore take action to ensure that the school does not solely benefit those who pay fees, yet the critical point is that it is up to the trustees to determine how that is achieved, and that is what we seek to challenge.

During the Bill’s passage through the other place, these new clauses were voted down on the understanding that the Charity Commission would pursue non-legislative routes. The Charity Commission updated its guidance in October last year, but the only change was to “encourage” schools to show in their annual reports how, for example, they have shared sports facilities; there is no compulsion to do so. It can only be concluded from that limited reaction that there is no desire for any progress on this issue. Indeed, it goes against the very principle of why people send their children to independent schools. Why would someone pay to send their children to schools for the facilities if other local children who do not pay get to use them? There is no inherent incentive for independent schools to share their facilities.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 1:00, 7 January 2016

The new clauses assume that every independent school has the resources that large and well known independent schools have. That is not always the case. In fact, quite a lot of independent schools share facilities or have to use other facilities. The new clauses take a one-size-fits-all approach that I do not think would be acceptable to some of the small independent schools; they seem to have been missed out of the new clauses.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The point is not how much the schools have, but the fact that the money they receive from the public purse is over and above what other schools receive.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am very sorry, but as I said before I have to make some progress. I will rattle through, and I apologise to hon. Members on both sides for that.

If they want to keep facilities solely for their own pupils, schools must give up their charitable status. If they want to retain that status and the financial benefit that the parents of non-pupils pay for, they must allow non-pupils greater access. It is time to clarify the law. In the wise words of the Upper Tribunal, adjudicating between the Independent Schools Council and the Charity Commission,

“these are issues which require political resolution”.

That is the purpose of the new clauses.

Independent schools will of course seek to reassure us of the other public benefits they claim to provide, but even the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that that model of partnership between independent and state schools was meagre stuff, describing it as “crumbs off your table”. Why are independent schools expending their energy and resource—in fact, our resource as British taxpayers—educating the elites around the world, rather than helping to tackle the challenge of lifting educational attainment, expanding aspiration and tackling the social inequality that still exists in our country? That should be their charitable aim. That should be their public benefit.

There are many excellent schools in the state sector, some even better than independent schools, yet that is not true for all, and in some communities there is a stark division between the type of opportunities and facilities that can be enjoyed. The Opposition believe that this country deserves an education system where the majority of young people enjoy the same access to excellence as the privileged 7%. That is the intention of new clause 3.

I will quickly rattle through my comments on the other provisions. New clause 4 is about sports facilities, which I propose should be shared. I will not rehearse the broader arguments I just made, but will focus on the role that sport can play in tackling inequality, building cohesion and confidence and raising aspiration, and why sharing sports facilities can help schools to fulfil their public duty test and should be mandatory.

Evidence from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport shows that young people’s participation in sport improves their numeracy scores by 8% on average. Underachieving young people who take part in sport see a 29% increase in numeracy skills, and returns on investment in sports programmes for at-risk youth are estimated at £7.35 of social benefit for every £1 spent. Sports programmes can strengthen social networks and community identity, yet inequality in access to sport for young people is still a huge barrier. A study by the Sutton Trust shows that more than a third of British medal winners in the 2012 Olympics were from private schools. Indeed, the trust says that that figure

“comes as no surprise as children in independent schools benefit from ample time set aside for sport, excellent sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches, while in many state schools sport is not a priority, and sadly playing fields have been sold off.”

A survey carried out after the 2012 London Olympics found that “lack of facilities” was cited by parents as one of the biggest challenges facing schools trying to increase the amount of school sports. According to Sport England, the percentage of those on the lowest incomes participating in sport has hit the lowest level since records began. At a time of rising childhood obesity, less school sports and cuts to local authority leisure budgets, official figures show that most five to 10-year-olds say that the 2012 games did not encourage them to take part in sport.

In the light of all that evidence, the value of sport to young people, particularly those from the most deprived backgrounds, is clear. Independent schools should have a moral obligation as part of their charitable aims and their public duty test, and now, under new clause 4, a legislative obligation, to ensure that their facilities can have a positive social impact on children in their local communities.

New clause 5 focuses on music and, again, I will be extremely brief. We know that 84% of parents want their children to learn to play an instrument, and 82% say that music can help to teach children discipline. However, access to the learning of classical music, in particular, is restricted for many children. Sir Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, said:

“When the results achieved by independent schools are analysed, it is often without considering the role that a rounded education plays in this success—and particularly the role of the arts. It is also this unequal provision of culture that gives the alumni of independent schools a substantial advantage throughout life.”

The cost of purchasing instruments is one of the most prohibitive factors. The joy of learning classical music should not be the preserve of those who can afford it. For the many reasons I have given, we believe that music resources should also be shared by independent schools that want to retain their charitable status.

New clause 6 would require private schools to engage with their local communities and to share access to careers advice, work experience and further education admissions. We think it is a vital measure, because it seeks to get to the heart of some of the inequality that becomes entrenched for those in private schools by access to opportunity for outcomes in later life. As I set out in my earlier comments, the evidence on the difference in opportunity in higher education and careers for pupils from independent schools is stark and not diminishing. They take up nearly 50% of the places at Oxford and Cambridge, but I will not rehearse statistics that I have already run through.

That building of confidence for the future from which many independent school pupils benefit, the access to wider opportunities, the networks that many schools have with higher education establishments and the informal opportunities for internships and work experience in the professions are the key to unlocking opportunity. The evidence suggests that having work experience or an internship on a CV is critical to finding employment. More than one third of this year’s graduate vacancies will be filled by applicants who have already worked for the employer as an undergraduate. The critical questions are who gets those opportunities and how do they get them. Alan Milburn, in his 2009 report on social mobility, said:

“What has struck me so forcibly during the course of our work particularly when meeting young people from a whole variety of backgrounds is the emergence of a ‘not for the likes of me’ syndrome… Of course not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer—and not everyone will want to be—but those with ability and aptitude need a fair crack of the whip to realise their aspirations…It is not ability that is unevenly distributed in our society. It is opportunity.”

By giving children from state schools the opportunity to access the advice, guidance, support and networks that independent schools use for the advantage of their children, new clause 6 will go some way to breaking down the disparity in and inequality of opportunity that exists in our society and help to release some of the potential in our young people that otherwise might never be realised.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton.

I read new clauses 3, 4, 5 and 6 with a degree of sadness and, because of my age, no small feeling of déjà vu. How many times have I heard the justification that to be fair we must regulate? Regulation and quotas, however, do not always work as we might want—the Labour party might know that from current experience. What saddens me about the new clauses is the lack of understanding of independent schools and the benefits that they bring to the table, including how they already contribute to the public good. The proposals would apply red tape to something that is already working.

Independent schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate or by Ofsted, and their contribution to public benefit is already commented on in those bodies’ assessments. The whole point of the Bill, it seems to me, is to give the Charity Commission the right to hold to account those who act in the name of charity. If an organisation has been granted the status of a charity, it is right and proper for it to be held to account for its behaviours and that of its trustees—we discussed that on Tuesday—and for its outcomes. That is as true for an educational charity as it is for any other.

Is there a little bit of mischief-making in the tabling of the new clauses? Yes, there is the cost of £700 million, but the taxpayer is also saved a cost in that the education of 500,000 children is paid for by individual parents, so the additional money is engaged in the system.

It is well documented that schools at the apogee, such as Eton and Wellington College, rightly sponsor local state schools and do all manner of things as part of their outreach. They teach older people computer skills, work with local primary schools, and cascade and absorb good practice—from the independent sector to the state sector and back into the independent sector from the state sector. It should be remembered, however, that 55% of all independent schools have fewer than 350 pupils, which means that it is not commercially viable for them to outreach all their systems to fill those gaps.

Incidentally, my children were educated nowhere near a private school. If we accept the new clauses, for those who are not fortunate enough to live near a well equipped private school we have created nothing but another two-tier system. Also, 28.7% of pupils educated in the independent system are from minority ethnic backgrounds, which is a higher proportion than in the state system.

A local example in my constituency is South Lee school. A new sports facility was required, and without prescription or any of the new clauses, the school set up a community interest company, working with my borough council, a charity called Sporting 87 and Bury St Edmunds cricket club. A community use agreement with the council kept rates for use affordable. The school uses the facilities during the day in term time and allows other schools to use them if possible. Everyone in the community is involved and at the weekends, evenings and in the holidays, it is fully used by tennis clubs, archery clubs, cricket and so on. Everybody gains.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clauses would undo a lot of the hard work that has been done to create partnerships between independent schools and the state sector? Forcing specific types of partnerships might undo all the good that is being done and would be detrimental.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

I could not agree more—it is not always necessary to tell people how to behave well.

The school has forged great community links and the council and people in my constituency got another sports ground for very little investment. It helps social cohesion and health outcomes, among other things, as the hon. Member for Redcar alluded to.

My underlying belief is that people should be allowed to choose what is right for themselves and their family. The clauses would legislate choice and good behaviour out of the system to a degree, and that is regressive. Indeed, if my memory serves me correctly, Ms Abbott chose to send her son to a private school. As a mother, I can understand her need to make that choice about what is best for her child. Should we deprive others of that choice? I do not think so, but the new clauses could begin to do that.

The worry is that the clauses will not allow small schools that offer specialisms in areas that the hon. Member for Redcar discussed to continue to do so across the board, particularly for gifted music scholars, those who are talented at sports and budding linguists. All have benefited from education in the independent sector. Many of these schools offer bursaries and 100% scholarships to youngsters whose parents would not normally be able to afford the fees. Similarly, and of the utmost importance, some of the best education for our children with dyslexia or autism occurs in the independent sector, easing the burden on state schools to provide special needs support.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

As an acute dyslexic, I understand the benefits that can be bestowed on students who are lucky enough to have parents who are able to send them to such schools. Does the hon. Lady accept that she is citing best practice in the private schools sector, and that the new clauses seek to extend best practice throughout the whole sector?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

No, I am not. I am standing here and saying we must be allowed to choose. I am the mother of four children, two of whom are acutely dyslexic. They have both been educated fully in the state system at a school that is excellent. What I am saying is that independent schools must be allowed to function as they see fit and to pay back in a way that is appropriate; the Charity Commission will be the regulatory body, as will Ofsted and the ISI. An organisation cannot be compelled to devolve out, because all that will do is create yet more unfairness.

Independent schools are often a vital resource, depended on by local authorities. That has to be considered, because we cannot account for all the specialisms. Many local authorities use such provision to help disadvantaged children to get on. More than 66,000 pupils in the independent sector have special educational needs. For that reason, we should be very cautious of doing anything that ties the hands of schools.

I believe that we should empower school leaders—and I mean all school leaders. Leaders in this sector often assert that the clear vision, ethos and purpose on which they are founded and the freedom to deliver allows them to excel. That should be there for all schools to allow them to bring rounded people into society who have the same fair chance at everything.

All schools with charity status currently have to demonstrate a charitable purpose. A strong Charity Commission will hold them to account. It should not be for us in this place to over-regulate. There are excellent examples of this Government promoting schemes that help, such as the National Citizen Service. My children attended the scheme with children from the independent sector and children who had been in dire straits with different authorities. All went on the scheme together, which allowed them to learn, experience and become well rounded.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 1:15, 7 January 2016

I am big supporter of the National Citizen Service; it is a great thing. That is exactly the kind of example of what an independent school should be doing. If an independent school wants charitable status and its financial return, why can it not use that financial return for a programme like that?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

There is no point. First, smaller schools, which make up more than half the number of independent schools, could not afford to put on a programme on such a vast scale. Secondly, a scheme exists to get social mobility between different areas and have children learn from each other. I am worried by the over-prescription of this measure and the need to regulate something that does not need to be.

I feel able to comment as somebody who believes in choice. The choice I made for my four children was to educate them entirely in the state system. The point at which they had any degree of paid provision was when they were in nursery. As they were all born during the previous Labour Government, I could not access any provision I did not pay for.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

There is less now.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

That is not actually the case. With the extension of provision to two-year-olds and three and four-year-olds, there will be considerably more than I was granted.

After many years as a school governor at a high-achieving secondary school in the state system and a primary school for those with special educational needs, I believe that independent schools have to abide by the obligations placed on them, and the Charity Commission is there to do a job. To prescribe their behaviour further is not only unnecessary but may well force small specialist schools out of existence due to the red tape and cost of administration. It is nothing to do with what they deliver.

These proposed new clauses are ill considered and should be rejected. They will not give any of us what we all desire, which is an excellent education for all our children, so they become well rounded individuals who can contribute to society and have an equal chance of doing what they wish.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on her excellent speech, which was clearly based on an enormous amount of personal knowledge. I also thank all Members of the Committee for their contributions over the past four or five sittings. We have had an excellent Committee stage, where we have given the Bill a rigorous check on what it should and should not do. I look forward to Third Reading and Report.

I agree that we should do more to promote stronger partnerships between independent and state schools. Where I differ from Opposition Members is in how we go about that. We should recognise that many strong partnerships already exist, as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have said, and they are growing in number and impact.

Before I go into detail, I want to clear up a point the hon. Member for Redcar made about Lord Moynihan’s views. Lord Moynihan actually agreed with us that encouraging charities to do more to share facilities was a better approach than legislating to force them to do so. That ought to be on record so as to make clear Lord Moynihan’s views.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

When I was an adviser at the Cabinet Office I had the benefit of working on the 2006 Charities Bill, later the Charities Act 2006, which brought in the public benefit test. We discussed public schools then and considered drafting and implementing an amendment not dissimilar to the new clauses at that stage of legislation. At that point, we had representations from independent schools, which strongly said that they would improve community relations and that self-regulation and actions from within the sector would deliver demonstrable change. Can the Minister tell the Committee the degree by which the sector has improved in the intervening years and whether that will extend further without the need for legislation?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I will come to it later in my speech, rather than deal with it up front.

There are both principled and practical reasons why legislating to force charitable independent schools to do more is wrong and could be counterproductive. Let me start with the principled argument against these new clauses. Public benefit is a requirement at the centre of the definition of a charity. All charities, regardless of their size or charitable purpose, must exist for public benefit. Public benefit itself is not defined in statute, but has a meaning given by a body of case law that has been built up over several hundred years, which sets out clear principles but gives the definition the flexibility needed to deal with a wide range of types of charities. The way in which a charity demonstrates its public benefit and the extent to which it does so is for its trustees to decide, taking into account the circumstances of the charity and other relevant factors. It is not for the Charity Commission to interfere unless charities fail to meet the requirement.

An Upper Tribunal ruling in 2011 set the parameters for charitable independent schools. Public benefit must be real and not tokenistic, but beyond that it is not for the Charity Commission to dictate to schools the type or amount of public benefit they provide. That should be a matter for the trustees of the charity, who must take into account the charity’s circumstances.

There is a wide range of ways in which charitable independent schools can and do provide benefits, including academic partnerships with state schools, sharing sporting or other facilities and expertise, and providing bursaries and other financial assistance to those who cannot afford the fees. There is also the important indirect benefit of relieving the taxpayer of the cost of educating 7% of the nation’s children. It is for the trustees to determine the way in which their charity provides a public benefit. The law places the decision on which approach or combination of approaches the charity takes in the hands of the charity’s trustees.

It would be wrong to single out one type of charity in legislation and stipulate one particular type and the extent of public benefit that it must provide. No other type of charity is treated in that way, and it would set a very dangerous precedent. What would be next? Religious charities, overseas aid charities or campaigning charities? Once the precedent has been set, the risk is that the temptation to interfere would be too great for some to resist, and specific legislative requirements could creep in over the years for different types of charities. If unchecked, there is a real danger that over time charities would be opened up to significantly increased state interference—whether or not politically motivated—which could seriously undermine the charity sector’s independence. In this Committee, all parties have sought to protect the independence of charities and trustees.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

On the point about setting a precedent, the difference is that independent schools provide a service over and above state provision. There is statutory universal provision, but people choose to go in over and above that and send their children to independent schools. We should question the right of those schools to receive taxpayers’ money. It is a unique situation in education, so we cannot simply say that it would set a precedent.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As I said, parents pay for education at independent schools, which relieves a huge burden on the state. It is very easy to dismiss the fact that private schools provide more than 500,000 places, but as I said to the hon. Lady earlier in our proceedings, abolishing independent schools would immediately create the huge problem for the state of how to educate those children.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

There is a short-sighted financial view about the cost of educating children and the saving to the state sector of educating children in the independent sector. We are dismissing some of the value that those children, their parents and families would put back into the state system, were they to be educated there. One should not see children simply as a financial burden on the state; they will contribute greatly to the state system.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I worry that the hon. Lady, along with a number of Opposition Members, has a mindset that the independent sector is better than the state sector. That might have been true under a previous Labour Government, but state schools have improved enormously under this Government. It is important to make the point that independent schools do not necessarily offer a better, more advantageous education for our young people than state schools any more. That view is being degraded year by year by the reforms and protected investment that we have put into our education system. It is very sad that the Opposition do not recognise or welcome that.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

May I take the Minister up on that point? He has made a sweeping statement that is not the case. He does a disservice to the reforms made by the Labour Government under the Building Schools for the Future programme—since cancelled—following 18 years of neglect that left many schools with leaking roofs. He does a disservice to our record. Why does the Minister think people send their children to independent schools, if there is no difference from the state sector? What is it that they are paying for?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

There are many different reasons why people send their children to independent schools. I would not like to intrude on the decisions that families make up and down the country for the good of their children. Some may base the decision on distance, if they live in a rural area and the school is close.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

If the hon. Lady is painting the situation as simply one of privilege, she is straying into territory she should not stray into. Many independent schools offer bursaries and many other ways to ensure that people who cannot afford to send their children are able to do so. We might want to pick up on that debate outside the Committee.

What is currently meant by public benefit has been determined by the courts over several hundred years. While not perfect, the current case law definition has served us well and we start interfering with it at our peril. In addition to our principled objection to these proposed changes, there are practical reasons why we do not support them. Over recent years, many independent schools have embarked on successful partnership projects with local state schools. Those have arisen from local needs and reflect good relationships between head teachers in the state and independent sectors. Forcing schools into particular types of partnership will not work in the long term and could undermine much of the good work that has already been done.

Legislation is not needed to make those partnerships happen. They are already happening and are growing in number. In answer to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Hove, according to the Independent Schools Council, 93% of its member schools—1,073—are already involved in partnerships with state schools. Of those, more than 900 are involved in sporting partnerships, more than 600 in music partnerships, almost 600 in academic partnerships, about 400 in drama partnerships and more than 200 in governance partnerships.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds said, when people think of independent schools they often think of the largest and most well known, but the reality is very different. More than half have fewer than 300 pupils, and in many cases they might have more limited resources than the local state school. For example, some may not have any sports facilities to share with local state schools. It would seem odd to legislate for something that some schools simply might not meaningfully be able to do. The measures proposed focus on sports, music, drama, arts and careers and higher education advice. They omit perhaps the most important category of partnership between independent and state sectors: academic partnerships.

Let me give an award-winning example. King Edward’s School in Birmingham aims to improve teaching and learning for pupils in local state junior schools across the city. Its outreach programme has doubled in size in each of the past three years so that the school is now in contact with more than 11,000 state-educated children and more than 450 teachers from 130 different junior schools. More than 50 members of staff and 300 pupils from the school are involved, and activities have included a city-wide maths competition entered by teams from 110 state primaries, which has proved so successful that it now hopes to run annually.

Closer to home, Westminster School runs a number of partnerships focused at raising the aspirations and ambitions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. It sponsors Harris Westminster Sixth Form, a free school sixth form that enables pupils with a high academic potential from socially and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds to receive a high-quality education, enabling them to make successful applications to Russell Group universities. It also operates the Westminster summer school—a week-long event each July that provides up to 70 pupils from schools across London with academic tutorials, presentations from leading universities’ admissions staff, and visits to leading businesses.

St Albans School has built strong community links through its long-running partnership programme. Pupils from four local primary schools use the swimming pool for their lessons on two afternoons a week. Masterclasses in ICT, design and technology, and science are held for local primary school children, and staff from the drama, music, art, maths and French departments travel to local schools to run classes and share their specialist skills with the children and staff.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 1:30, 7 January 2016

I am grateful to the Minister for sharing those examples with us because they really show the breadth of partnerships that have evolved over time in different communities across the country. Does he therefore agree that the new clause would be so prescriptive—such a one-size-fits-all approach—that it would stop that really good way of working at a community level? I was brought up in an area where there was one school; the nearest school was probably about 15 miles away and there was no independent school. People like me would never have benefited from such a clause.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend makes her case powerfully. I would not seek to add anything because I agree with her. She is absolutely correct.

It is not just the largest schools with the most resources that are engaging in such partnerships. Belmont Preparatory School near Dorking has, for over a decade, provided facilities and resources for a local community pre-school music education group to meet twice a week, enabling early years children and their parents to enjoy music making and to form links between the local community and the school.

In order to show that strong partnerships already exist, the Independent Schools Council has created and is managing a “Schools Together” website that launches this month. I hope that everyone will have the chance to look at it. As well as showcasing existing examples of best practice, the website will act as a vehicle for the development of new partnerships between the independent and state sectors, enabling schools to register their interest in developing a partnership. So far, more than 175 schools have registered and reported on more than 400 partnership projects. I encourage the Committee, particularly Opposition Members, to review the growing number of projects on the website and support the development of new partnerships in their constituencies.

The ISC will undertake a census of all partnership activities and will promote partnerships among its member schools. The Charity Commission has updated its guidance on ways that trustees of charitable independent schools can ensure they run their charities for public benefit.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

We discussed earlier today what happens when self-regulation fails. Does the Minister have in mind a framework of what improvement he would like from the sector? At what point will he intervene or look for some kind of back-up powers, as we discussed today, to try to ensure that further activity is made?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As the hon. Lady knows from the contributions made in the Lords, an agreement was reached on what independent schools will be doing. That agreement will need time to bed in, to ensure that it can progress in an orderly way. We have no intention of introducing any back-up powers, for the reasons I have stated; in principle and in practice, the hon. Lady’s proposals simply would not work. I expect independent schools to do more through partnerships, as I said at the start of my speech.

The updated guidance encourages trustees of charitable schools to comment on their individual approaches to public benefit in sport, drama, music and other arts in their annual report, and the guidance includes new examples of sharing sporting facilities. The commission also gives new examples relating to the sharing of sports, arts and music facilities in its example of a good trustees’ annual report. The ISC has disseminated new guidance to its member schools.

The commission has committed to follow up with a research project that will begin in 2017, when enough time will have elapsed to assess the impact of the new “Schools Together” initiative and the updated guidance provided by the commission. That research will draw upon data from charitable schools’ annual reports, as well as aggregated data that the ISC collects through its annual report. The terms of reference will be developed by the commission with input from the ISC, and a report of the research will be published in 2017, which will enable us to get a much clearer picture of the extent of existing and new partnership activities between the independent and state sectors.

I have been encouraged by the willingness of the ISC and its member schools to engage constructively in this debate, and I expect that many people will be surprised by the volume of partnership activity that is already taking place between the independent and state sectors but that has perhaps gone unreported in the past. The ISC is keen to showcase best practice and to encourage more such partnerships, and it has shown its commitment through its actions. An inflexible legislative solution is the wrong approach and could damage the good will that exists in the independent sector. The best partnerships are not forced but evolve through local needs and provide mutual benefits. We should welcome the ongoing work to nudge and encourage such partnerships, but we should not make them a legal requirement.

To recap, there are several good arguments, both in principle and in practice, for not pursuing these new clauses. I therefore hope that hon. Members will decide not to press the new clause further.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister has been extremely generous with his time in responding to all our interventions, so I will not delay the Committee much further. I will just make a small point in conclusion. I appreciate that there are many examples of good partnership, which is to be encouraged, but words such as “nudge” and “encourage” are a little disappointing. Given that schools receive a financial rebate from the taxpayer, taxpayers have a right to expect some benefit from those schools. The pace has been positively glacial, so I am not convinced by the Minister’s arguments. However, we will not press the new clause to a vote today, but we may well reconsider it on Third Reading. We are not convinced that there has been sufficient progress that anything other than a statutory power will do anything to compel independent schools to justify the money they get back from the British taxpayer.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.