As I was making my way to the swimming pool at the crack of dawn last week, I caught this interview
on the BBC's Today programme under the heading "Boss of the Week".
The boss in question was Helen Fraser, CEO of the Girls' Day School Trust, an organisation billed as having a £200million turnover each year and "billions' in assets. The GDST has 24 fee-paying schools and two academies. It accrued a surplus of £24 million in the year ending 2011 and £18 million in the previous year . So lavish is the surplus from fee income that it is rolling out a £100million five year investment plan to make its schools even more "beautiful and well equipped" ( although that didn't sound essential as the reporter noted how "well-appointed" the private sixth form in which he did the interview was). Teachers salaries also went up by 3.5% last year, compared to a 0% rise in the state sector.
Ms Fraser was blunt about her role - she sees herself as business woman not an educator. Her "business" needs charitable status because it if didn't have this benefit it would have to pay corporation tax on its surpluses. The reporter also observed that private donations to the Trust can avoid tax meaning a further loss to the public purse.
Ms Fraser described her product as 'the girls" who came out confident. committed, composed and courageous. I am sure they do, the majority almost certainly being blessed with relatively privileged home lives and what can only be described as a luxury education.
The question is whether such an organisation is really a business or a charity. You decide.