Guidance on its way

As an aide memoire, here is the Charity Commission’s timetable for its public benefit guidance.

January 2008 General public benefit guidance for all charities published
January/February 2008 Start of three month consultations on draft supplementary guidance on public benefit for

  • Charities for the prevention and relief of poverty
  • Charities for the advancement of education
  • Charities for the advancement of religion
  • Fee-charging charities
Late March 2008 Expected date on which the public benefit provisions in the Charities Act 2006 come into force (sections 1, 2, 3 and 5)
July-December 2008 Supplementary guidance on public benefit published
Late March 2009 Charities will begin reporting on public benefit as part of their annual reports to the Commission from this date

I don’t mean to be pedantic, but..

Forgive me for being an anorak, but I felt that I had to get to the bottom of the conflicting reports last week from the Guardian & BBC.  So I went on a hunt for the data upon which the reports were based.  The trail lead me to a wonderful corner of the DCSF website, the Research & Statistics Gateway, that one could quite easily lose oneself in for, oh, minutes!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, after compiling some data on pupil numbers, I managed to produce the following pictoral evidence (thanks to the wonderful Zoho suite of online applications).  Indeed, the numbers in Independent Schools remain healthy.  I calculated the number of pupils at Independent schools as a percentage of the total number of pupils in full time education in the UK.  For the raw data, this is the link to the Zoho database table.

Private school pupil numbers in decline?

I think not.  And I would like to try to redress the balance.

This article – Private school pupil numbers in decline | Schools special reports | EducationGuardian.co.uk – must be read very carefully.  And even the Guardian’s own analysis suggests quite the opposite.

Take these quotes:

…demographic factors mean the 431,650 fee-paying pupils are a marginally higher proportion of the school population than they were in 2004.

 So are numbers at Independent Schools in decline?  In real terms yes but just because there are fewer school-age children in the population doesn’t mean that independent schools are under any kind of threat.  In actual fact our “market share” has risen.  This article from the BBC – Private Schools’ Market Share Up – is an excellent counterpoint.  However:

 …stability among families able to afford private education means that independent secondary school numbers have remained almost constant, while there has been a fall of about 6,000 in primary.

There in lies the rub.  We have known for sometime that the next 10 years will see a marked demographic shift, with proportionally fewer children being born, which will impinge up the Primary Independent schools first.

I posted an item on this in May 2005, when the Guardian was then on about rising school fees.  Back then, the link between fees and falling numbers was again a tenuous one as the Maintained Sector was experiencing a greater drop in numbers relative to the Independent Sector.

So the point is?  While the statistics appear threatening, it is articles such as this that are potentially damaging to the stability of the relationship between schools and their parent bodies and prospective parents.  We don’t need headlines like this.  It patently does not give the real picture.