Think piece: The folly of the public benefit test

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The "public benefit test" is a misguided attempt to force consolidation in the independent education market, argues James Croft.

This week the long running dispute between the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Charity Commission moves towards a conclusion in the courts. While Robert Pearce’s comments on Friday will come as a disappointment to association members hoping for clarity on the question of how schools may meet the new public benefit requirement, I can’t help but think that the issue has become little more than a distracting side-show.

The government has already made it quite clear that the Chair of the Commission must desist or be relieved her responsibilities; a future resumption of her unsuccessful attempts to force consolidation in the sector was always unlikely. In so far as the foray was the brainchild of Labour policymakers, the announcement on Friday that the Commission’s programme of assessments ‘is at an end’ and that irrespective of the outcome of the case ‘the commission intends to review the guidance in the light of its experience of its use’ comes as no surprise either: while politically useful in pacifying interests on the left of the party, this aspect of Labour’s policy excursion into the charitable sector has been far from successful in policy terms. [Continue reading]