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A Class Education

Despite some of Scotland’s most exclusive fee-paying secondary schools charging more than £30,000 for a year’s tuition, 80 per cent of their annual rates bills are being paid for by ­councils – because they are classed as charities. The classification of private schools as charities, not businesses, means the public purse foots almost all of each independent school’s annual non-domestic rates bill – even although they are already exempt from income and corporation tax. As a result, Scotland’s most prestigious private schools enjoy massive tax relief despite charging colossal annual fees while state schools struggle. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, the state schools’ non-domestic rates bill in 2011 was £23.6million, paid for by each council.

Edinburgh’s George Watson’s College, was spared £330,119 of charges.

Fettes charges £27,150 a year for senior school boarders. Its bill for non-domestic rates last year was £209,139, but an 80% discount meant the school had £167,311 taken off. By contrast, Wester Hailes Education Centre  which had 40.5% of its pupils registered for free school meals last year attracted an NDR bill last year of £261,873. The charge was paid in full by the local authority, six times as much NDR as Fettes.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at the University of Strathclyde, said: "The idea that Fettes can pay proportionately less in rates than a comprehensive school in Drumchapel is repugnant." He says that “Charitable status has been shown to be little more than a smokescreen for subsidies"

Glasgow’s ­Hutchesons’ Grammar charge up to £9459 for a year’s education. In the past three years the school’s rates bill totalled around £924,923. As a charity, the trust who run the school have had £739,934 of that paid by the taxpayer. Deemed a charity because 2.2 per cent of children at Hutchesons’ Grammar pay no fees.

Glasgow City Council figures show the charge for state schools was £13.8m in 2011. More than 95% was paid. Over the past three years, the total bill for Edinburgh's 16 private schools was £6.32m, but around £5.1m was knocked off.

Glenalmond College, a Perthshire boarding school had £126,747 chopped off its rates bill last year, Gordonstoun was liable for £148,086 last year, but got a reduction of £118,468. This charity charges up to £31,839 a year for its services.

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