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The Great British Public School Rip Off

Mick Hall @ Organized Rage queries the British public school system.

Writing in the Independent Ben Chu points out the mainstream media especially the Mail and Murdoch media relishes exposing charity 'fat cats' and highlighting galling examples of luxury and excess in the not-for-profit sector. But there’s one fat-cat charity scandal these outlets have totally ignored.

According to Ben this sector:
Are often blessed with manicured lawns, sumptuous historic buildings and state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facilities for the enjoyment of members. Many offer expensive activities such as golf, shooting and horse-riding. And who benefits from these impressively well-appointed institutions? “The very wealthiest families in the world,” concedes a manager of one ... And yet these private clubs are designated as charities and benefit from significant tax breaks. They pay little VAT on some of the services they buy, and no corporation tax on their financial surpluses. They can also slash their business property rates bill by up to 80 per cent ... And yet the crusaders against charity excess from the fourth estate have been strangely silent on this scandal. Perhaps it’s because these institutions in question are known as “independent schools”. And unlike the right-wing media’s usual targets, these charities do not provide help to the poor and afflicted but instead service the offspring of the world’s global elite.
He continues:
There are around 1,200 public schools in the UK, almost all of which have charitable status. Why are they charities? The answer lies in history. The great public schools of England – Eton, Winchester, Charterhouse, Westminster and the rest – were established centuries ago to school the sons of the poor, who otherwise would have received no education. Over the centuries the background of the pupils changed, and the schools began to cater, instead, for the gentry and the aristocracy (as they ditched their private tutors). Then the upper middle classes got in on the act too. Even their daughters were sometimes admitted ... If that had remained the case, the charitable designation of such schools might have remained uncontroversial. After all, these were still institutions of learning. But unfortunately the people who run these schools could not locate the restraint button
In an otherwise excellent article Ben underestimates the number of public schools in the UK. According to Wikipedia and other sources there are approximately 2500. Ben's numbers come from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) an organisation that represents 1200 public schools in the United Kingdom's independent education sector.

No matter, the facts speak for themselves. Only 7% of the UK's children attend public schools and it's not hard to see why. Figures released last week from the Good Schools Guide showed the average cost per child to attend private school is now £16,500. At the top end it’s even more extreme. To attend Cheltenham Ladies College cost over £31,000, to attend St Paul’s, George Osborne’s old school, costs £23,562 a year, up from £18,840 in 2011. The annual price of a place at Westminster, attended by Nick Clegg, has risen to £26,322, up from £22,854 five years ago. Eton, alma mater of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, charges £37,000 a year to the parents of boarders, up from around £30,000 five years ago. That’s somewhat higher than the average UK national pre-tax wage.

There are costs over and above these fees, like the private health care industry there are many extra top ups to pay. Extra curricular activities cost money, as do educational away days and coaching in so called gentlemanly sports like shooting, rugby, cricket and polo, etc. As with all successful business the customer pays for all these nice little extras.

The most expensive public schools now have brochures which not only display their classrooms, playing fields and swimming pools: now they also show off their theatres, fitness studios and recording suites. Which were built after the governing bodies took a business decision to attract wealthy customers from overseas.

Thus the offspring of the British aristocracy, on whatever side of the blanket they were born, now rub shoulders with members of world's light fingered elites; the Chinese and Russian oligarchs, democratic dictators, tax dodging CEO's, heads of international drug cartels, and the rest of the international riff raff. Is it any wonder schools like Eton are notorious for churning out flawed young adults who lack any empathy with their fellow countrymen and women, bullies and misogynists, who are steeped in bigotry and class prejudice and have an inbuilt belief they have a god given right to rule.

As Ben Chu wrote in his Indy piece:

If these institutions paid tax in the manner of other private firms the Treasury’s coffers would be swelled by an estimated £100m a year. Add in the business rates exemption and the annual tax break is closer in value to £250m. 

How many state schools could be improved or built for that sum of money? In my view these public schools should be swept away, and their properties taken over by the state education sector. As this is unlikely to happen any time soon they should start paying their fair share.

Charity status for public schools must be abolished. How can they continue to masquerade as charities when they have a clear business model and tout for new business amongst the wealthy elites in the UK and across the world, and when a sizable number of their intake do not even reside in the UK.

Why should the British tax payer continue to subsidise these businesses?

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

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