Andrew Fisher is a Former Director of the Labour Party Policy. This statement was made on Radio 4 against the current backdrop of comments from across the political spectrum on the challenge to the charitable status and consequent benefits of independent schools – including VAT concessions and business rates.

Apart from the resultant considerable financial concerns for private education, the issue remains, a failure to address the optics of the benefits of deferring charitable status on private schools and the view that private schools are solely for the privileged.

These optics need to be managed and transparently addressed by those who hold private schools so dear – especially in a society in which the “divides” are now constantly being emphasised and seemingly ignored. 

The question is how best the can private schools collectively achieve this.

I cling to the concept “one education sector” structured on the values of inclusivity, diversity and equality. All forms of school in a democracy should play a central role in delivering within their communities @HelenWright “Powerful Schools”. In so doing they should treasure these values and transparently demonstrate how they measure their schools educational delivery against them. Most people are not convinced by a private school system that delivers on public benefit without demonstrating through rigorous impact evaluation that they are serving at least some of the most deprived individuals and regions in society. Charities dependent solely on donations would not survive .  . 

It is interesting that only recently Seamus Murphy, chief executive of the Turner Schools multi-academy trust in Kent, writes in TES calling for a debate about the persistence of grammar schools. He adds: “If Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is serious about smashing the “class ceiling”, then what better way to prove it than to seize this opportunity and end selection once and for all.”  Against this backdrop here is part of a table showing the % of pupils from genuinely deprived students at some of Kent’s Grammar Schools and an associated article. Private schools should be ensuring that they can survive under this form of scrutiny

With regard to the private schools recent comments have included : “Scattering a few bursaries around so that the grand total of one per cent of private school pupils are able to attend for free isn’t enough to repair that contract. And while the work of schools like Eton in establishing new sixth forms to support social mobility and the levelling-up agenda, these examples of truly charitable endeavour are too few and far between.” Luke Tryl is the UK director of More in Common

All private schools, and perhaps all Grammar Schools, relative to their size and income, should be benchmarked and required to deliver acceptable levels of charitable support through community programmes and awards (bursaries and scholarships) for the genuinely deprived. Private schools do not intervene enough to support students and schools in deprived areas based on free school meal and pupil premium data. They should be aiming to at least achieve a percentage of support as close to the national average for these indices as is feasible.

There are examples of great levelling up delivery – @FraserNelson commented  Last week “ I was invited to talk to pupils at Teddington School, a stunning 1,500-pupil secondary in south-west London that has swapped its bad Ofsted rating for a “good” one. Why? It was taken over by the Bourne Education Trust, an academy chain. The culture changed, as did the results. Nearby there’s Feltham College, a new state sixth-form sponsored by two of Britain’s best private schools: Hampton and Lady Eleanor Holles. The idea is to share teachers, expertise and excellence. It’s the know-how, the sharing, theecosystem – in short, the art of teaching – that makes the difference. This is the direction that Britain has been heading in: where the divide between state and private has been lowered by ever-more collaboration.

Yes this is the direction but let us all be clear that charitable status and VAT concessions in education need to be earned and transparently monitored. The private schools should be seizing the initiative and then the private schools opinions and actions below might be comprehended by all.

“Diminishing a largely innovative and successful part of the education constellation to level the playing field hardly seems the most optimistic of approaches.” Tom Lawson Headmaster of Eastbourne College  

Philip Britton, Head of Bolton School where one in five pupils are on bursaries, said he fears the policy “will damage some schools while not actually creating any benefit for others”. ‌

Tony Oulton, Headteacher of Oldham Hulme Grammar School, has invited Bridget Phillipson to meet his students in a bid to dispel the myth that all independent schools are a “bastion of privilege”.

The optics sadly currently lack the necessary rigour for the majority to be convinced. We need to convince all – I am saddened by the one size fits all approach as the educational charity I worked for was founded as an Orphan Asylum and honours this very purpose to this day.