Orkney resident Ashley Husband Powton, a postgraduate student at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has petitioned the Scottish Parliament to remove charitable status from private schools. She presented 310 signatures in support of the change to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Tuesday 28 October.
Jean has congratulated Ashley on her campaign and her composure in the face of hostile questioning from some members of the committee.
As charities, Scotland’s fee-paying schools enjoy an 80% reduction on non-domestic rates. The discount cut the tax liability of Fettes College in Edinburgh, whose alumni include Tony Blair, from £209,139 to £41,828 in 2011, while the council-run Wester Hailes high school in one of the poorest parts of the city paid its £261,873 tax bill in full.
Following Ms Husband Powton’s evidence, MSPs agreed to ask the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to attend a future meeting of the Petitions Committee to answer questions on their interpretation of the charities rules.
“I congratulate Ashley on creating this petition, and especially on calmly facing down some very discourteous questioning at the Parliament.
“Private schools are one of the ways that privilege and inequality is entrenched in the UK. They enable wealthy parents to effectively buy access to the top universities and the top jobs, ensuring that the people born at the top of society are likely to stay there.
“Private schools’ impact on equal opportunity and social mobility is bad enough, without ordinary people being asked to subsidise them through tax breaks intended to support real charities.
“It is claimed that the schools deserve charitable status because they provide bursaries to less wealthy students. But Fettes, as an example, provides fees assistance to only 10% of its pupils, and only 6 pupils pay no fees at all. The overwhelming majority of privately-educated children are there because their parents can afford to pay up top £30,000 per year in fees.
“Meanwhile state schools, which genuinely exist to serve every child, get no special treatment and are expected to pay their taxes in full.
“Private schools should not be treated as charities. I look forward to hearing OSCR’s response to Ashley’s petition, but if they are not satisfactory I’m sure her campaign will continue, and she can count on my support.”
Anyone can bring a petition to the Scottish Parliament. Find out more about public petitions here.