Charitable status and independent schools

Removing charitable status would be counterproductive for pupils in state and independent schools, and for the taxpayer.

Charitable status is worth an estimated £150 million, but every year independent schools provide more than £350 million in free and reduced-fee places to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Meanwhile, 1,550 partnerships between independent and state schools support 160,000 state students. These partnerships include new free schools and the sharing of facilities and teachers, in particular in science and languages, as well as university access support.

If charitable status were removed, it would impact this partnership. Additionally, independent schools with a smaller number of pupils may have to close, as Mr Gove says. They would then join the state sector, bringing the £5,500-a-year cost per state school pupil on to the taxpayer. Educating the 500,000 independent school pupils in the state sector would cost £3 billion a year.
Julie Robinson
, secretary general, Independent Schools Council; Christine Edmundson, interim operations director, the Girls’ Schools Association; William Richardson, general secretary, Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference; David Hanson, chief executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools; Neil Roskilly, chief executive, Independent Schools Association; Clive Rickart, general secretary, The Society of Heads; Richard Harman, general secretary, Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools; David Woodgate, chief executive, Independent Schools’ Bursars Association

Sir, There are more schools with fees closer to £10,000 a year than the £30,000 Mr Gove quotes. There are more families with children benefitting from independent education in the “squeezed middle” income range than from the fabulously rich: aunts, uncles and grandparents as well as working spouses all contribute to the fees of many pupils. There are in these schools many children of families with incomes below the national average as well as those of refugee families supported by bursary schemes. Dr Christopher Ray
Former chairman, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (2012-13) former high master, The Manchester Grammar School (2004-2013)

Sir, Mr Gove would like to know why private schools should retain charitable status. The answer is simple – the main beneficiary is the state. By paying for our children’s education twice, those of us who send our children to private schools are providing a considerable subsidy to the government’s coffers.
Nigel Fraser Ker

Ashtead, Surrey

Sir, Mr Gove rightly draws attention to the extensive subsidies that the private schools receive from the taxpayer. These subsidies mean in effect that poorer taxpayers are paying to increase the advantages that the offspring of the wealthy already have. However, he understates the extent of the subsidy.

The taxpayer is also subsidising the pensions of state school teachers, estimated at £131 million annually some years ago. There has for many years been a net inflow of teachers from the state to the private sectors: the 2016 figure was 2,525 teachers moving into the private sector and 681 going in the reverse direction. Should not publicly trained teachers and/or the schools that employ them be required to repay all or some of the taxpayer support they received in training?

However, perhaps the real charge against private schools is inefficiency. Independent studies show how much better state-educated students do once they enter higher education. Yet private schools receive in a term the amount of funding per pupil that my taxpayer-supported sixth-form college receives in a year.

With state schools under the cosh, and in a “sharing society”, isn’t it about time that taxpayer support for the private schools was transferred to the state sector?
Roger Brown

Emeritus professor of higher education policy and former vice-chancellor Southampton Solent University

Sir, Increasing fees by 20 per cent would see a defection from the independent sector to the state sector which would add to the problems of state funding and school places.

If anything, these families should get a tax credit for opting out of the state system. A voucher scheme (as used in Australia) is surely more fair.
Ben Jowett

Bramley, Surrey

SOUND ADVICE
Sir, Andrew Billen has set out clearly the problems of listening to speech on TV (“Our ears, and TV sets, just aren’t up to it”, News, Feb 21; letters Feb 22, 23, 24) and suggests that older viewers invest in a sound bar, which provides additional volume and improves clarity.

However, there is a cost-effective technical solution. The majority of programme material for broadcasting is recorded on multitrack systems. The soundtrack is separate and therefore uncontaminated by music and background sound.

If this track could be provided to viewers as a “clean sound” channel, then they would have a better chance of understanding what was said, mumbling included.
Mike Martin

Former chief scientist, Royal National Institute for the Deaf

Sir, Contrary to Adrian Brodkin’s view (letter, Feb 24), Marlon Brando’s work is not a marker for inaudible cinema acting.

Like many successful actors and actresses (James Dean, Eva Marie Saint) trained or influenced by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, Brando played a role according to its inner emotional and intellectual emphases, which meant that he could not habitually lend himself to a declamatory style — though he did give full value, naturalistically, to rhetoric in his performance as Marc Antony in the film Julius Caesar.

Please also do not forget the “temptation” scene in On the Waterfront where Rod Steiger and Brando find their way through a labyrinth of stress, with Brando having to register emotion so difficult that complete words and sentences do not suffice — yet making sure by audible, fastidiously adjusted intonation and tempo that the nuanced content was communicated.
David Day
Ackworth, W Yorks

FARMING STRATEGY
Sir, Your leading article on the future of British farming (Agricultural Yield, Feb 21) set out the need for a strategy for the industry. Your letters (Feb 22 and 23) have raised a variety of issues but not answered this fundamental requirement.

Attention since the referendum has concentrated on sectors which contribute more to the UK’s gross national product. These debates ignore, however, the huge role farmers and farming practices play in our food pricing and supply, and the rural environment.

A starting point is surely the 1947 Agriculture Act, a hugely successful achievement of the postwar Labour government. Tariffs were removed on food imports, but British farmers were protected from the drastic impact by receiving a guaranteed price for much of their production. These prices were the subject of annual negotiation between government agricultural departments and the National Farmers’ Union.

For 30 years, until the UK joined the EEC, the act dominated British farming, and thus food prices, agricultural profitability and the rural environment. Removal of tariffs on imported food cut prices for consumers, guaranteed prices gave farmers the confidence to invest and support for upland farming reduced the threat of an extension of the spread of featureless conifers.
John Lefley

London NW1

LIGHT YEARS AWAY
Sir, I was intrigued by your report on the “exciting discovery” of the Earth-like planets of the star Trappist-1 and by the statement by Nasa’s Thomas Zurbuchen that they might represent “a habitable system that we could explore”.

I cannot see when this exploration is expected to occur. One light year equates to some 5.9 trillion Earth miles, so Trappist-1, at 39 light years’ distance, a seemingly small number, is an enormous 230 trillion miles away.

Exploring these possible new Earths at any time soon seems a highly unlikely proposition.
Jack Cain

Bromley, Kent

A GREY AREA
Sir, Providing contraceptives to unwanted animals is wise and humane (“Prince of Wales backs mass sterilisation of grey squirrels”, News, Feb 24). It succeeded in Paris, where the pigeon population was much reduced. However, have the proponents of this scheme considered that it might be undone by natural selection? The heavier grey squirrels will be sterilised, since they can open the door to access the drug, but smaller grey squirrels will not.

It seems to me that this will create human-induced evolutionary pressure, giving rise to smaller greys.
Rebbetzin Dr Shira Lewin Solomons

Reading

RINGING A BELL
Sir, I write regarding Peter Milner’s letter on the authenticity of “Hitler’s” telephone (“Ringing alarm bells”, Feb 23): in the 1950s our family home in Cambridge had a similar phone, supplied by the British GPO.
Anthony Parry

London NW6

TEACHING SKILLS
Sir, Parents funding individual instrumental music lessons for their children will no doubt be gratified that a recent study finds that their children are likely to develop better problem-solving and motor skills than those who have group lessons (“Individual music lessons ‘make children sharper’ ”, News, Feb 22).

What, though, of their instrumental skills, surely relevant to parents paying for such tuition? And how does this finding square with the outcomes of the highly successful Suzuki group learning method? Teaching methods must surely be of as much importance to outcomes as whether a child is educated singly or in a group.
Carol Trueman

High Birstwith, Harrogate

LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND BUS SERVICES
Sir, On Wednesday the Bus Services Bill is back for debate in the House of Commons. This will give local authorities new powers to plan their local bus services. However, we fear the government may reintroduce a ban on local authorities in England setting up bus companies. The House of Lords removed this controversial clause, and we’re calling on the government to drop the ban for good.

There are 11 bus companies run by local authorities across the UK, providing some of the most successful services in the country. They pick up awards for excellent customer service, invest heavily and run environmentally friendly fleets. Why would the government ban local authorities from following the lead of providers such as Nottingham City Transport and Reading Buses?

The public is opposed to Clause 21, by a ratio of 3:1. Councils need to be free to choose whatever option is best for their communities.

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