Loretto School, in Musselburgh, East Lothian, whose former pupils include the broadcaster Andrew Marr and former UK chancellor Alistair Darling, has 18 months to convince the regulator that it passes the test.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) said access to the school was “unduly restricted” because of fees and therefore Loretto failed to meet the public benefit element of a viable charity. Loretto costs more than £19,000 a year for senior day pupils and up to £28,590 for boarders. Although an OSCR investigation found that 91 pupils – almost 15 per cent of the roll – received means-tested support in 2012/13, most of this was of “low value”.
The total support amounted to six per cent of the school’s income and just one pupil had full fees paid.
“Although the charity offers means-tested assistance to those who are unable to pay the full fees, the value of the awards offered is not sufficient to mitigate the effect of the level of fees charged by the school for those on low incomes,” the OSCR report said. “OSCR concludes that the fees are unduly restrictive ... and it therefore fails the charity test,” it said.
Loretto has until the end of March 2015 to take the necessary measures or it will be removed from the Scottish Charity Register.
Eight other schools have passed the test and will keep their charitable status, the OSCR said. This allows valuable tax breaks and rates relief.
Jonathan Hewat, Loretto’s director of external affairs, said: “Although OSCR acknowledges the valuable public benefit Loretto School already provides, they have identified improvements that they wish to see implemented. We are naturally disappointed by this outcome but strongly believe that, by working with OSCR, we can satisfy the requirements of their charities test within the prescribed timescale.”
In 2011, four private schools – Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow, Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh, Lomond School in Helensburgh, and St Leonards in St Andrews – kept charitable status after a three-year investigation that the OSCR said had “significantly” widened access.
About one in 20 children in Scotland attend private schools. In Edinburgh it is almost one in four.
The latest eight to pass the regulator’s test are Lewis Independent Christian School and Mannafields Christian School in Edinburgh, Moray Steiner School in Forres, Compass School in East Lothian, Hamilton College and Lathallan School in Montrose, The Glasgow Academy, and Albyn School in Aberdeen.
Four other schools were told earlier this year they risk losing their charitable status without significant changes to supported fees. Fettes College – former prime minister Tony Blair’s school – and St George’s School for Girls, both in Edinburgh, St Columba’s School in Inverclyde, and Wellington School in Ayr, whose former pupils include violinist Nicola Benedetti, also failed the test.