“It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.”
Our preschool has been around for almost 50 years, but it was constituted as charity in 1996 (which makes us 20 years old this year – woo hoo!). In the early days, the charity was kept afloat by fundraising and by however many parents wanted to pay for their children to come, and get involved in bake sales. We were only open maybe 10 hours a week, because that is all that could really be sustained. There was a lot less regulation around in those days. With no state run alternative, parents either did it for themselves, or it didn’t happen. These days, although we are still voluntary run, we get most of our funding from the Government. Any fundraising is an added bonus, because it buys us lovely things like high ratios and sheds and equipment for our forest club. We’re in a fairly affluent area, where parents are happy to get involved and, crucially, where they have the time. We are in the fortunate position of being able to do charity on our own kids. In areas of deprivation, it must be so much harder to take this approach.
Running a charity is complicated, and time consuming. There is a lot of charity law, financial regulation and administrative red tape that you need to understand. It’s easy to miss doing something because you didn’t know you were meant to do it. I’ve only been able to devote the time to learning how to do it all because I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. Reserve Fund Calculations and Annual Reports. AGMs and Quorums. One of the other issues with a funded charity is that people don’t tend to want to volunteer, when they view something as an entitlement and not an extra. The people who do volunteer can come with an agenda. This can be good or bad (usually, thankfully, it’s good). Sometimes, though, it can be a pain in the backside. As trustees (and particularly as chair of trustees) you can have a lot of influence, which means that it’s important to have plenty of oversight into what you are doing. Unfortunately, oversight can only ever be limited in scale, because there are a lot of charities. This is a fundamental flaw in the Government’s new ‘all must be academies’ policy, because academies will all be exempt charities, which means that the DfE/EFA are going to have to do a lot of oversight.
Ironically, although I have helped to run our charity for seven years, there is something wrong to me about having charities do a job that a government should do. Yes, it’s a good way to fund organisations where you want them to reuse any profit, and not pay any tax. Yes, it is lovely to encourage a community to help its own. But at the end of the day it is still charity. It is asking people to do a job that the Government is meant to do. I struggle to see us as a charity, we are more like a business run by volunteers that doesn’t make a profit, just one that gets more money because we raise our own. When people say that the Government is trying to privatise education, I fear they might be right. If a CEO is earning a massive salary, there is a hair’s breadth between being a government funded charity and acting like a private company. It’s wrong that my children should get a better deal than other people’s, just because we have time to help run their preschool, organise charity events, and write grant applications. It’s wrong that we call something a charity if it acts more like a business. And while charity might begin at home, high quality education is not an act of charity. It is the job of a Government, and a right for every child.