Four Scottish private schools have been told they must improve access for poorer families in order to keep their charitable status – raising fears that large numbers of English schools could fail broadly similar tests that came into force this year.

The schools are Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow, Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh, St Leonards in St Andrews and Lomond school in Helensburgh.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator said that on balance they did “not provide public benefit” and said it expected to see changes within “a reasonable time period”. Jane Ryder, chief executive of the OSCR, said the public benefit test had been failed principally due to the level of the schools’ fees and the fact that there was insufficient help in place for those who could not afford them.

“We are not dictating a particular business model to the charities and there are different ways in which they can address our concerns,” she said. “But we are looking for an early acknowledgement of the intention to introduce changes and for implementation within a reasonable time period.”

The OSCR on Tuesday gave a clean bill of health to six other private schools, including Gordonstoun in Moray and George Heriot’s in Edinburgh. The regulator was created by the Scottish parliament five years ago after a number of scandals involving cancer charities.

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: “We are delighted that seven of our schools, including the High School of Dundee which was reviewed last year, have passed the charity test, and although we are disappointed at the view taken by OSCR, we are confident that the remaining four schools will be able to retain their charitable status.”

The news from Scotland will increase concerns among English and Welsh private school heads that they may have to raise fees to meet the test. The Charity Commission, the OSCR’s counterpart south of the border, on Tuesday described the English and Welsh test as “broadly similar”. However, Andrew Hind, its chief executive, said: “Charity law is a devolved issue. The decisions announced today by OSCR do not set a precedent for England and Wales.”

The Charity Commission announced this month that it would investigate its first five English private school charities to see if they were up to the mark – including the prestigious Manchester Grammar School Foundation. The charities were picked because they represented different types of school, not because they were considered at risk of failing the test.


High Court overturns bias ruling

A leading secondary school accused of discriminating against students from poorer backgrounds has hit back at the Office of the Schools Adjudicator after successfully defending its admissions policy at the High Court, writes Megan Murphy.

Sir Pritpal Singh, head of Drayton Manor High School in west London, called for a reform of the complaints process after his school was forced into a costly legal fight just days before its deadline for parents to submit admission applications for next September.

Ealing council, the local education authority, had complained the school was indirectly discriminating against children from poor families by prioritising students that lived closest. The council’s complaint was subsequently upheld by the adjudicator, leading to the High Court battle.

Drayton Manor has denied any bias in its admissions process and argued it had introduced the code in part to help another local school, Brentside, from suffering falling roles as a result of children seeking places farther afield.

Mr Singh described the adjudicator’s decision as “appalling” after it was quashed by the High Court.

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