On 14 December 2017 it was announced that the Scottish Government would accept the recommendations of the Barclay Review to remove mandatory non-domestic rates relief from, exclusively, independent mainstream charitable schools.
Six days later, on the evening of 20 December, I sat in the balcony of Greenock Town Hall surrounded by parents, governors and guests, enjoying a musical celebration of extraordinary calibre performed by pupils from our junior and senior school. The purpose of this biennial event is to raise funds that will allow St Columba’s School to provide financial assistance to families for whom the outstanding education we offer might well be out of reach.
During that evening, listening to a beautiful woodwind solo performed by one of our talented pupils, I considered the impact of this wonderful event and what might be lost if the Scottish Government fulfilled its promise.
I was all too aware that amongst the choirs and orchestras that crowded the stage that evening were pupils whose education is funded (either in part or wholly) by a bursary.
As well as their achievements at local and national festivals, many of our pupils have successfully auditioned for places in national bands, choirs, orchestras and ensembles and gone on to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I know this, in part, is due to the quality of curricular and extra-curricular music teaching at St Columba’s School. Pupils are given a remarkable breadth of opportunities to perform and hone their skills and talents – not least being the chance offered to pupils last Easter to march down 6th Avenue and play in the parade at New York’s Tartan week.
For many of our pupils this truly excellent education is only accessible through funds that the school is able to make available or raises through events and donations to ‘St Columba’s Foundation’. The foundation helps us in providing our pupils with the excellent standard of education and care that is expected from St Columba’s and supporting our bursary programme, which currently assists 8% of our pupils, giving them the opportunities that come with an education at St Columba’s irrespective of their background and household income.
On the evening of 20 December, one such fundraising event, there was something deeply moving about watching the accomplishments of pupils whose own performances help to fund the education of those who will come after them.
Over the course of the two-hour show there were recitals from soloists, ensembles, choirs, orchestras and our exceptional school pipe band. Through a combination of ticket sales and sponsorship the event raised thousands. This year sponsorship came from local businesses and house builders who understand the importance of supporting ‘St Columba’s Foundation’ and this local charitable event.
For some private schools, the news that they will lose the business rates relief will be potentially damaging.
As one of the leading independent schools in Scotland, St Columba’s will continue to flourish and thrive but what will be threatened is this essential charitable service that we offer – making excellent education accessible for all.
For more on St Columba’s visit st-columbas.org