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Mr Johnson? We’ve been expecting you

A told-you-so moment. Us Samizdatistas have been exercised by the new charities law in Britain for a little while. See me here, and Perry here, for example.

Tush, said critics, there is no clear intention:

No where does it suggest that the state wishes to ‘harness’ charities. Indeed, a central theme of the report is concern that charities accepting money from the state start to lose independence. This is, IMO, as much the fault of the charity as the state.

– commentator, J on “Stand and Deliver” {pdf}

And some people who should know better welcomed it, and wanted more. For example in this spectacularly badly timed article in the Independent on Friday, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC – who has a good record of skepticism of the state in her own field of criminal law – writes:

More recently this has led the newly formed Office of the Third Sector to actively promote an enhanced role for the voluntary sector, not just in service provision, but as the “voice” of a disenfranchised citizenry that needs to be empowered to talk directly to Government. But to flourish in this role we need a legislative framework and guidance that recognises the unique role that the sector is playing in articulating people’s views and promoting political debate.

“Guidance” forsooth!

Guidance is the poisoned fang of the state. And just today some teeth are bared in a political cause. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, and a Labour deputy-leadership candidate, has given the Daily Telegraph an interview.

Mr Johnson said he wants private schools to take pupils on secondment from local state schools, open their science labs to comprehensives and offer many more bursaries to poor families.
“Private schools need to do more to earn their charitable status,” he says. “It’s not enough just to lend their playing fields, it’s about the science lab, it’s about teachers – there are excellent Maths teachers in private schools. Let them give a bit of their expertise to the state sector.”

An interesting operational definition of “give”. Was not the Government celebrating the abolition of the slave trade only a little earlier this year? Apparently the Department for Education and Skills is going to make suggestions, to the supposedly independent Charity Commission* that they impose such things on schools that are charities. If the commission, so decides, then it is not as if the schools have the option of foregoing the tax breaks. Their assets were effectively nationalised under the ultimate control of the commission in 2006.* And the board of the commission? Well it is appointed by ministers and members are deemed civil servants. Of the nine commissioners and non-executive directors – The Nine? – two have had careers in organisations beyond the shadow of the state. I wonder whether how amenable they will be to departmental suggestion?

Meanwhile anyone holding a position in any of Mr Johnson’s rivals, for the deputy leadership of a party that hates private education more than it loves tax-and-spend, may wish to sell.

* It is little noticed that the 2006 Charities Act as well as changing the functions of the Charity Commissioners, actually abolished them, transferring the role to an entirely new para-statal body, the Charity Commission, which just happens to have a very similar name, and whose officers are referred to by the same name as the former commissioners.

13 comments to Mr Johnson? We’ve been expecting you

  • Mr. Johnson’s statements regarding private schools look like an attempt to strip these schools of their charitable status and therefore force them to either close (making the ones that are left even more elitist) or charge higher fees (making them all more elitist). It seem that this supposedly socialist government, instead of trying to foster equality of opportunity, is trying to build a new aristocracy. No doubt in future only those who have been to the increasingly elitist private schools will be capable (or deemed as worthy) of holding high office, while the rest of us proles are given a substandard education so we don’t realise that we’re being buggered.

  • On the funding of education, I wrote quite a bit here on the new blog Heraklites.

    Concerning private schools, there is (as far as I can see) an interesting split on charitable status. There is no tax deduction for school fees, not even for the teaching component, let alone for boarding (and the latter strikes me as not unreasonable). Nor is there any financial support from the state for those schools, despite the fact that they are responsible for the education of around 7% or UK children and youth (and actually provide a higher proportion of delivered education). However, there are often charitable donations (which are entirely voluntary) for the building of new facilities at private schools, and this probably includes the acquiring of land for them to be built on.

    Now, back in the mists of time, the Church of England (and perhaps other churches too) had many schools in the UK, which had been built up by charitable donations and intent. These schools then came under the care of the state (either substantially or in totality). Does anyone know whether the various churches were paid (anything or the going rate) for the land and buildings that were transferred from charitable status to government control?

    Mr Johnson has his view that “private schools need to do more”. I think that it would be useful if the state did more on education, by providing a decent education in return for the tax they take. As experience shows that the state struggles, ineffectually in an unfortunately large part, to do this, perhaps they should limit themselves to ensuring some adequate minimum level of funding for the education of every young person.

    This is rather than using taxation and law to inhibit greater spending on education, and using law to enforce a uniformity of educational targets (clearly suppressing choice by pupils, parents and teachers) and dominating the means of delivery in a way that is a millstone round the necks of many young people in the UK.

    And what is that proportion of tax used for wealth redistribution (as in the UK’s welfare state) but compulsory donation to charity. I’m not complaining much (in fact I approve to some reasonable extent), but think it would be better to get, if not a thank you, at least less griping and no more greedy demands to prop up obvious failure.

    Best regards

  • Readers here may be interested in this piece I wrote about Dame Suzi Leather, the head of the Charities Commission.

    Her qualifications are, shall we say, interesting. And guess what her political allegiance is?

  • RAB

    Dame Suzi sounds like the kind of Consumer Expert,
    who, if you gave your shopping list to, and sent her to Tescos, would not come back with what you wanted, but with what she thinks is Best for you.

  • I agree, Mandrill, but with a slight variation “Assimilate or Die (except for few so OUR kids can go)”.

    Yes, the use of the word “give” is utterly disingenuous. “Not stand in the way of us taking” I think would be more appropriate.

    Considering Gordon Brown wants to spend the same amount on State kids as a private school spends, isn’t it clear to The Bogeyman how inefficient and dysfunctional State Education has become?

  • Paul Marks

    Government first tempted independent schools with subsidies (starting with a small experiment in 1833), and then (after the Forster Act of 1870) started to run schools of its own. This was a departure from the old practice where a monarch (or other rich person) would give some land to a school and then leave it free to finance itself and run its own affairs.

    As E.G. West pointed out more that forty years ago (“Education and the State” 1965) the process was not about spreading education, it was about either gaining control over independent schools (as the subsidies came with strings attached – regulations), or getting rid of them (via opening rival schools – which soon became “free” i.e. totally tax payer financed schools).

    “But if the state did not educate people some would not know how to read or write”.

    Millions of people do not know how to read or write now and there is no evidence that the number would be larger if the state got out of education (indeed the number might be smaller as their would be a market for inexpensive practical education, as there would no longer be a “free” alternative to strangle it).

    I was taught to read by a lady in a village near me (pity this lady did not teach me to spell, and other such, as well), I went through years of state education (at the expense of the taxpayer), but I can not think of anything I ever learned at a government school. I also went to several government funded universities (working as a security guard, before, during and after my time at them) – but the only true things that I came upon in such places was from private reading (sadly most of the books I read have been purged from the places now – “to make more space for I.T. and administration” although all the rubbish filled books are still available, only the good ones are no longer there). The lectures and other such were filled with nonsense.

    As for Mr Johnson (and the Charity Com), the idea seems to be that parents should pay three times.

    They should pay taxes to fund education. They should pay fees to independent schools to fund education. and they should have to pay higher fees to the independent schools so that these schools can bail out state schools – the ones the parents pay taxes to support (whether their children go to them or not).

    If Mr Johnson really thinks that “people believe in public education” (or whatever) he should end all taxpayer funding for government schools.

    After all if the public really believe that the government (plus the various unions) are good at running schools they will be happy to donate money to these institutions – and will not need the threat of prison to get them to part with their cash.

    Then there would indeed be a “level playing field” between government run and independent schools.

    People could then choose where they sent their children.

    Am I cynical to think that, in such circumstances, the government run schools would be empty?

  • My posting of Saturday May 26 at 11:03 AM (number 2 on this thread) has now made it through Smite Control.

    There, and in In the linked comment elsewhere, there is severe criticism of government education policy, though somewhat different from that of Paul Marks.

    Best regards

  • John Rippengal

    Having successfully f****d the state education system these morons are dead set on destroying the Independent sector too. Not too different from Stalin and the Kulaks.

  • John K

    I’d like the headmaster of just one independent school to have the balls to tell Alan Johnson to stick his charitable status up his arse. It’s not worth having if it means obeying the whims of this chippy little bastard.

  • Phil A

    Why should independent schools “have to do more to earn their charitable status”? Just providing an education has been enough for centuries. But then when did Nu-Lab know when to leave anything alone, let alone well enough?

    If push comes to shove then it might well pay public schools to tell my Johnson to, shove his charitable status where the sun seldom reaches and cut back on enough of the free and subsidised places to make up for the new taxes they will have to pay.

    Though it would be a shame to have to go in that direction, as deserving young people would loose out yet again because of politicians primarily interested in furthering their own careers and special interests.

    Not that that will damage his chances at the Nu-Lab deputy post.

  • Vote Alan `Chippy Little Bastard’ Johnson for deputy leader!

  • RAB

    It’s an SOS
    And a tacit admittion that the Comprehensive system has utterly failed.
    Couched as a threat.

  • Midwesterner

    RAB, I thought the exact same thing. Seldom does one get to see such a bald faced admission of failure from the top official in any government department. They are into the dangerous-like-a-wounded-animal zone now. Or like a drowning person pushing their rescuer under water.