The outrage that has greeted news that the Charity Commission has flexed its muscles a little over schools that regard the fulfilment of their charitable mission as being the staging of plays in local care homes and allowing a church youth group to use its playing field, is absurdly overdone.
The Commission has accepted that schools like Manchester Grammar, which provide bursaries for 14 per cent of pupils and train teachers from other schools at home and abroad, are making a serious effort to fulfil their original charitable purpose. So this is hardly some political vendetta against independent schools.
Nobody is denying parents the right to pay thousands of pounds a year for a private education. The only issue is whether providing an expensive fee-paying education by itself is a charitable mission. It clearly is not. The schools can choose to widen their charitable role, so that they meet the definition of a charity, or to reject charitable status. The same applies to the care homes that have come under the Commission's scrutiny today.
However, the Commission is itself being disingenuous in refusing to offer better guidance to schools on what would count as the fulfilment of a charitable mission. If it believes that a minimum of 10 per cent of places should be the subject of bursaries or that a school should contribute a particular level of value to its community, it should say so. After all, schools that are inspected are usually clear what Ofsted is looking for. They have the right to similar clarity from the Commission.