Independent schools shouldn't enjoy charity status say members of Scotland's biggest teaching union
Private schools should be stripped of their charitable status, Scotland’s biggest teachers’ union has said.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) wants independent schools to be denied the chance to declare themselves charities – a move which is worth millions in tax breaks.
It follows an investigation by the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) into how effectively the sector opened its doors to poorer pupils.
The recent EIS annual conference in Perth voted to campaign on the issue.
They are operating as businesses to give a private education to the minority that can afford it - John Dennis
John Dennis, from the union's Dumfries and Galloway local association, said: "We need to campaign to end charitable status and stop giving them these financial advantages. In reality they are operating as businesses to give a private education to the minority that can afford it."
Tom Tracey, from the Inverclyde local association, added: "They call themselves independent schools because they want to be independent, because they want to be superior and because they think they are better than us. If they want to be independent then they should be fully independent."
Following the OSCR investigation many schools were deemed to have passed the "public benefit test" but others such as Hutchesons' Grammar, Glasgow, Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh, St Leonards, St Andrews and Lomond School, Helensburgh were warned they needed to do more.
However, a report by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools said the value of the sector to the wider economy was £446 million a year and is responsible for more than 11,200 jobs.
Meanwhile, two independent schools who initially failed the OSCR charity test have been allowed to retain their charitable status.
Loretto school in Musselburgh and St Columba's in Kilmalcolm have both met conditions imposed by OSCR after they were initially judged as not doing enough to widen access and encourage pupils from lower income families, as defined in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.
OSCR directed St Columba's School Ltd in January 2013 to remove the undue restriction on access and a similar direction was issued to Loretto School Ltd in October 2013.
Both schools complied with the directions within the timescale allowed.
Where there are conditions on the public gaining access, such as fees or charges, charities must take steps to ensure that these are not “unduly restrictive”.
The schools were assessed as part of OSCR’s rolling review, an ongoing investigation into the independent school sector.
All but four of the 40 fee-paying schools identified by the regulator have passed the test either at the first time of asking or after following directions from OSCR.
The regulator has yet to announce its initial decisions on the remaining four.
David Girdwood, rector of St Columba’s, said: "We are pleased that the very great efforts to increase access to a St Columba’s education and develop our role at the heart of the community have been recognised."