There was an interesting debate in Commons on compelling independent schools to open up their facilities to public use, following the introduction of amendment to the Charities Bill to force this during the Bill’s Committee Stage in the Commons. The Bill, which has already passed the Lords, intends to extend the powers of the Charity Commission to protect the sector from abuse and maintain high public trust in charities.
The debate on independent school facilities had already taken place in the Lords last autumn, where the government agreed to ask the Charity Commission to produce far stronger guidance on the issue rather than set out the responsibility in statute. The debate built on this point, with Labour MP for Redcar Anna Turley arguing that she not think that guidance is a strong enough incentive and Jo Churchill, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, arguing that overburdening independent schools with this responsibility would cause many of the smallest ones to go out of business.
In setting out her arguments, Anna Turley quoted the Sutton Trust:
“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.””
Turley also used familiar statistics about the education backgrounds of leading people, including quoting a Social Market Foundation report the Sutton Trust commissioned:
“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 131 Public Bill Committee Charities Bill [Lords] 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… 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.
Rob Wilson, the Charities Minister, made some very interesting comments in response. During which he said 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”. He also cited the examples of schools with effective partnerships with the state sector – including King Edward’s School in Birmingham and Westminster School. He said that the guidance being produced by the Charities Commission will be far more robust in setting out the responsibilities of Independent Schools to open up their facilities.