Public Benefit – another job for a beleaguered bursar?

Originally posted on 6 February 2017

With 78% of ISC schools holding charitable status, and the recent Government Green Paper "Schools that work for everyone", controversially suggesting that Independent schools could and should do more as a condition of their charitable status, I wanted today to explore the "public benefit" issue. 

Independent schools already do much to support local state schools, partnering with them to provide support such as teaching, masterclasses, special events, facilities and help with university applications. Indeed according to the latest census of ISC schools, well over 1100 schools are involved in such partnerships and projects. 

I noticed with interest that according to the ISC survey, 991 schools already have some form of sporting partnership with local state schools, whether that's hosting joint sporting events, playing sporting fixtures, inviting local state school pupils to attend coaching sessions or sharing sporting facilities. 570 schools also partner with local state schools for drama classes, performances and facilities, whilst 616 collaborate on musical events. 

But interestingly, I noted there was no mention of partnering with regard to ICT facilities. This struck me as strange given most independent schools have invested significantly in their ICT infrastructure, and could leverage this at little or no cost in order to assist with meeting the "public benefit" test. 

For example, many independent schools have a spare corner of storage capacity somewhere within their network, which could easily be utilised to say host email accounts or provide some storage for a local primary school, whose requirements are normally minimal. This offers a significant benefit to the state school, avoiding the need to purchase or refresh costly server hardware, and these days can be delivered in a secure way which ensures the two schools’ data and network traffic remain completely separate. 

Internet connectivity is another example of something that can potentially be shared with a local primary school. Independent schools in more rural locations have often had to invest significant sums to get telecoms lines installed to provide high speed internet connectivity, something which can be cost prohibitive to local primary schools, who are left to make do with a very slow connection. In this case, the Independent School's local network can potentially be extended to connect the local primary school on a secure network segment, which enables them to share the independent school's internet line. 

There are many other permutations of ICT sharing too, which could help independent schools to increase resource sharing with the state sector without further adding to Bursars’ workloads or budgets - thereby achieving a win-win for everyone. 

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