On Thursday the Secretary of State made a speech
in which he paid tribute to the achievements of the independent sector , applauded its old boys and girls, observed their dominance of the arts, media, and political establishment and rounded off by claiming "the sheer scale, the breadth and the depth of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country".
And he added "Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country. For those of us who believe in social justice, this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible."
The message couldnt have been more stark - private schools damage rather than benefit society as a whole. How then can they be classed as "charities"? The 2006 Charities Act
is clear - charities must have a public benefit. The Charity Commission website explains the two basic principles of that benefit - it must be definable and and to a sufficient sector of the public.
However as the Secretary of State has rightly pointed out private schools do anything BUT benefit society. What they do is benefit a small number of already privileged young people at the expense of the rest. The OECD has found that once social background is accounted for UK state schools actually outperform their independent neighbours, which suggests that the teaching in private schools may not be as good as it is in the state sector.
But private schools have more money, smaller classes and resources for extra curricular and enrichment activities that most state schools with limited incomes can only dream of. They also provide top level social networks and strings to pull in a gold plated service that the rest of us subsidise via their charity tax breaks.
They are exclusive not inclusive. They work against social cohesion by dividing young people by class and family income, they also make it very hard to challenge social mobility because they continue to give a competitive advantage to those young people whose parents can afford to pay for it.
I agree with Michael Gove, it is morally repugnant. I look forward to seeing a new Charities Act in the next Queen's speech to deal with this.