Memorandum from Focus Learning Trust (DCH
1.1 Focus Learning Trust is a charity formed
to give support, guidance and direction to a number of educational
charities throughout the United Kingdom. It is the umbrella organisation
for 64 educational charities which are registered as independent
schools. Fifty-five of these schools have applied for designation
as schools having a religious character and the remaining nine
schools are in process of applying to be so designated.
1.2 The education at each of these 64 schools
is provided in accordance with the tenets of Christians known
to government and authorities as "Brethren".
1.3 In order to improve the quality of the
education provided at these schools a programme of consolidation
is in process. It is envisaged that the number of schools will
be reduced by amalgamation or consolidation to approximately 40,
covering approximately 2,000 students.
1.4 The 64 school charities are affiliated
to Focus Learning Trust and this submission is made on their behalf
as well as on Focus Learning Trust's behalf.
2.1 We fully accept and support the principles
(a) that charities must be established for charitable purposes
only and that the purposes must be for the public benefit (b)
that the Charity Commission should at the time of application
for registration satisfy itself that the actual activities carried
out by the trust do accord with what is stated on paper in the
governing document and (c) that continuing checks be made to verify
the public benefit element.
2.2 We support the Government's position
as indicated in the draft Bill that there should be no new statutory
definition of "public benefit". Could it be made clearer
in the drafting of section 3 of the Bill that the law relating
to charities is embodied in case law as well as statutes?
2.3 We submit that the existing body of
case law as to the satisfying of the public benefit test should
continue to be available. If a statutory definition were to be
introduced it is likely that there would be greater uncertainty
as to its interpretation as the existing body of case law would
not be available.
3.1 It is noted that the Bill is silent
as to what checks would be carried out on independent schools
to verify their public benefit status. There have been suggestions
in the Press that some community use of facilities or the provision
of scholarships or bursaries would suffice to fulfil the public
benefit requirement. We would welcome as much information as possible
being available as to how the Charity Commission proposes to deal
with the matter so that consultation can take place and submissions
3.2 Is it possible for the Joint Committee
to bring some pressure upon the Charity Commission to indicate
its proposals now?
3.3 The schools affiliated to Focus Learning
Trust have a policy of non-discrimination as to fees. Children
are accepted in all the schools regardless of the ability of parents
to contribute to the cost of their children's education, and regardless
of the academic ability of the child (to the extent that children
with Special Educational Needs are admitted and provided for).
Some parents pay nothing at all; the schools are thus truly charitable
in every sense. The schools have an energetic programme of fund
raising. Brethren's businesses give financial support by regular
standing order donations. Focus Learning Trust has a trading company,
Unifocus Limited, which raises considerable funds from a variety
of commercial initiatives. The cost of the education is covered
from those sources together with contribution from those parents
who can afford them.
3.4 Focus Learning Trust and the 64 affiliated
schools are supported by hundreds of trustees and thousands of
volunteers who freely give their time to the support of the schools
without any payment and in almost every case without even charging
their travelling and other out of pocket expenses.
4.1 We can understand that there is general
concern as to the charitable status of independent schools and
hospitals which charge full fees for their services. We are anxious
that the status of truly charitable schools and hospitals is not
jeopardised by the introduction of legislation which is aimed
at bodies which may seem to be less charitable in character.
4.2 We would like to see the existing body
of case law as to public benefit remaining available to support
genuinely charitable status.
4.3 We would like to see clearer indications
now of the intentions of the Charity Commission on the nature
of their checks as to public benefit.