Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education says the Charity Commission's attack on independent schools is politically motivated.
Last week, the Charity Commission reported on the first five independent schools it has assessed for their provision of 'public benefit' according to Labour's new requirements. Two of the five, Highfield Priory in Lancashire and St Anselm's in Derbyshire, were told they must provide more free places or lose their charitable status.
Needless to say, this has sent shockwaves through the private sector. Knowing this was coming, many independent schools have increased their assistance to local authority schools and local community groups by sharing their teachers and facilities. A few have even risked their reputations by helping with Labour's profligate, unproven academies programme.
To no avail, it seems. Independent schools with charitable status face an uncertain future unless they offer an unspecified but 'sufficient' number of free places. Those that retained their complete independence can perhaps afford a wry smile.
Class warfare? Absolutely.
But could there be a clearer acknowledgement of failure from education secretary Ed Balls and the state educational establishment? To protect their failing system, they must not only cripple their competitors. Despite the billions of taxpayers' pounds at their disposal, they must also enlist the help of independent schools (and, incidentally, the few remaining grammar schools).
Should parents who already pay tax and thereby contribute to the costs of state schools, then choose to pay fees out of their taxed income, be made to pay more to fund additional burseries? This may not be a huge problem for the wealthiest schools or the wealthiest parents. But it will damage the independent schools and parents whose budgets are already stretched. Fees at Highfield Priory are £5,985 a year. That's less than the per-pupil costs at many state schools.
Couple these attacks on independent schools with attacks on grammar schools and even self-sufficient home-schoolers and a disturbing strategy of total political control of education becomes clear. Standards, choice and individual freedom are all under attack.
My guess (it's no more than that) is that youngsters who attend private prep schools leave for their secondary schools educationally around two years ahead of their state educated counterparts. And without the contribution to the total number of top-grade A-levels awarded in 'harder' subjects such as chemistry, physics and foreign languages to pupils from independent (and grammar) schools, the decline in such subjects would be more of a national catastrophe than it already is.
Parents who pay private fees out of taxed income save the public purse perhaps £3 billion pounds each year. Compare this with around £120m each year that is lost to the Exchequer in charitable tax benefits.
Independent schools offer vital competition for state schools. Can it be right that the more the state system declines, the more it is allowed to limit choice? When many of the best local schools have been weakened or destroyed, will anything remain for comparison, or escape?
Arguably, there's not much local political activists can do in this situation – except to avoid following the example of Conservative front-benchers, whose politically-correct silence has been disappointing and hypocritical. But don't we all have a duty to defend good local schools, whether state or private? Once they are gone, does anyone seriously think they can ever be replaced?