In the case of 10 schools, OSCR reached the initial conclusion that the schools did not provide sufficient public benefit and so failed the charity test. Although some of the 10 have made changes and have subsequently been found to meet the charity test, the fact that 25% of the schools were found (at least initially) to not meet the test could be said to have led to increased scrutiny of the status of these schools.
Now that scrutiny has captured the interest of one member of the public who has taken her views directly to Holyrood. On 28 October, the Scottish Parliament heard a petition raised by a lady from Orkney calling on the Scottish Parliament to strip Scotland's fee-paying schools of their charitable status. The petition calls on the Parliament to "urge the Scottish Government to remove charitable status, and thus taxpayer support, from private, fee-paying schools". The petitioner points particularly to the favourable tax treatment of charities, which is available to fee-paying schools but not to state schools.
A petition is a way for any member of the public to raise an issue with the Scottish Parliament. Petitioners only need one signature to lodge a petition and only MSPs are barred from lodging a petition. Once lodged, the petition is considered by the Public Petitions Committee ("PPC") where seven MSPs consider it and decide how it should proceed. In this instance, the PPC, having now heard evidence from the petitioner, has decided to make contact with the Scottish Government, COSLA, the Scottish Council of Independent Schools and the Educational Institute of Scotland. There will also be a further meeting at which OSCR will be invited to give evidence. Ultimately, it is OSCR's role to apply the Scottish charity test and to decide which bodies are entitled to charitable status so it will be interesting to see how OSCR will respond to the petition and how the PPC will take this forward.
While some petitions are said to have contributed to the introduction or amendment of legislation, in reality the lodging of a petition is, at best, a very early stage on the road to possible changes to Scots law. Nevertheless, while the petition is unlikely to make a difference in the near future, it is evidence that the status of fee-paying schools remains a hot topic.