Fettes College, the fee-paying school attended by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, has failed to meet the Scottish charity test, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) revealed today.
OSCR has so far completed assessments of the charitable status of 13 Scottish fee-charging schools, with a further 27 in this 'priority group' awaiting completion. Fettes is one of three which have failed the test, along with the fellow Edinburgh-based St George's School, and Inverclyde's St Columba's School.
Revealing the results of the first 13 schools today, OSCR advised that the three schools have been issued with directions instructing them to widen access to the benefit they provide. In all three cases, the schools had taken insufficient measures to provide assistance in respect of high school fees, or to otherwise widen the access to the benefit they provide, the regulator said. The schools now have 18 months to improve access or risk losing their charitable status.
The assessments are part of a wider review of charitable status focusing on 'priority groups' where more clarity over public benefit is required. Chief executive David Robb said that the process was ultimately aimed at maintaining public confidence in charitable status by ensuring that Scottish charities met the required standard:
"Charities must provide public benefit, and that is what the legislation requires us to ensure," he said.
"While ten of the schools have shown that they do provide a sufficient level of public benefit, we have found that three do not and we have therefore issued them with directions to comply with the legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament."
The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act of 2005 sets out the specific test that OSCR must use in its charity assessments. A charity must have exclusively charitable purposes and provide public benefit; and, in doing so, where conditions exist on gaining access to the benefit (such as fees), these must not be unduly restrictive.
Fettes fees system 'unduly restrictive'
Fettes was found to have unduly restrictive conditions. The school offers means-tested assistance of up to 100 per cent of fees to those who are unable to pay full fees, with 7 per cent of its income committed to this, and 9.6 per cent of its school roll benefitting. However OSCR says this is "insufficient to mitigate the level of fees charged by the school". Boarders at Fettes senior school are charged £9,370 per term, with three terms a year, while non-boarders are charged £7,025 per term.
Tony Blair boarded at Fettes in the late 1960s.
Responding to OSCR's review MCB Spens, headmaster of Fettes College, said: "Although OSCR acknowledges the valuable public benefit we already provide, they have identified improvements that they wish to see implemented. We are naturally disappointed by this outcome but strongly believe that, by working with OSCR, we can satisfy the requirements of their charities test within the prescribed timescale.”
The school has until 31 July 2014 to meet the requirements or risk losing charitable status.
St George's School for Girls, which has the same deadline, commits an even smaller percentage of its income to fees assistance (4.3 per cent). While 12.4 per cent of its students benefit, lower-value bursaries are typical at the school.
St Columba's School uses just 3.5 per cent of its income towards assisting access, benefitting 5.4 per cent of its students.