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Private schools should provide more boarding places for looked-after children

Private schools should provide more boarding places for looked-after children

13th August 2018

Policy Connect CEO Jonathan Shaw was a children’s social worker for over a decade before his 13 years in Parliament. Here he reflects on the Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi’s call for private schools to provide boarding places for thousands of looked-after children as a way of resisting pressure to strip them of their charitable status.

The ‘Boarding School Partnerships’ presents a wonderful opportunity for looked after children, and if I was still a social worker I would certainly be reviewing my caseload to identify potential applicants. Who would deny such children the chance to secure a life changing opportunity to attend one of the top private schools in the country? We all know the advantage that such an education brings.

However, on current form the sector is making a very modest financial contribution to helping a limited number of looked-after children when we compare the considerable benefits that it gains from charitable status. According to figures released last year, boarding schools will gain £522 million in tax relief on their buildings alone over the next five years. 

I agree with the Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi  when he calls on the whole sector to step up and participate, as I could imagine Labour making a similar argument for getting rid of charitable status to the one deployed in 1997 when it abolished the assisted places scheme.

Assisted places had funded relatively small numbers of less well-off children to go to fee paying schools. Labour redirected the money to reduce all infant class sizes to fewer than 30. It was a popular policy that was easy to present and one the Conservatives struggled to argue against and have never sought to reverse.

The Boarding School Partnerships has laudable intentions, but really needs to scale up the numbers of children it offers places to, and the schools themselves should contribute a higher percentage towards tuition and boarding fees if it is to offset the generous savings, earned through charitable status, that the Minister is keen to protect.

By arguing the charitable status of private schools is in danger unless they take more looked-after children, the Minister has shone a spotlight that raises the obvious question of what could this huge sum of money do to help all 72,000 looked after children in England?

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Policy Connect Chief Executive Jonathan Shaw
Policy Connect Chief Executive Jonathan Shaw