HomeWorld NewsLabour plan to charge VAT on fees 'will harm schools in poorer areas'
Labour plan to charge VAT on fees 'will harm schools in poorer areas'
Labour’s plan to charge VAT on fees risks harming independent schools in Britain’s poorest areas, warns top headmaster Sir Anthony Seldon
Labour is pursuing a ‘politically-driven’ policy that risks harming independent schools in Britain’s poorer areas, one of the country’s top headmasters has warned.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party has pledged to charge VAT on private school fees if it wins power at the next general election.
Sir Anthony Seldon, who has led some of Britain’s most prestigious schools, acknowledged it was a ‘convenient policy’ for the Labour leader.
But he warned it would ‘significantly’ damage independent schools and was not focused on what was best for the ‘long-term fabric of the country’.
Sir Anthony, as well as being a prominent politican historian, has been head of Brighton College, Wellington College and, in his current role, Epsom College.
Sir Anthony Seldon, who has led some of Britain’s most prestigious schools, warned Labour’s policy would ‘significantly’ damage independent schools
Sir Keir Starmer’s party has pledged to charge VAT on private school fees if it wins power at the next general election
He was quizzed about the prospect of fee-paying schools becoming a general election campaigning issue during an appearance on ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson’s ‘Crisis What Crisis?’ podcast.
‘It’s a very easy, convenient policy for Keir Starmer. It ticks lots of boxes, it appeals strongly to his left wing, it shows that Keir hasn’t gone Blairite and that he’s ‘still one of us,’ Sir Anthony said.
‘But is it the right solution to the independent school issue in Britain? Wherever does a whole system benefit when you damage and destroy the most successful and creative parts of it?
‘Now of course a lot of state schools are better than independent schools without a shadow of doubt, the state sector has got better and better over the last 20 years without a shadow of doubt.
‘But independent schools, if you put too much of a squeeze on them, the ones that will go down will be those in less affluent areas where the parents are less affluent, the strong will continue.
‘I think there are more imaginative and better ways to get the best out of independent schools and to help them enrich the whole culture of the state education system than having policies which will damage them significantly.
‘So I think something needs to be done but I think it’s politically driven rather than educationally or thinking of the long-term fabric of the country.’
The Prime Minister has accused Labour of ‘punishing’ parents by stoking a ‘class war’ with its pledge to charge VAT on private school fees.
Rishi Sunak said Sir Keir’s party would be ‘clamping down’ on hard-working parents with aspirations to send their children to independent schools.
His comments came after Labour’s education spokesman refused to back down from the widely criticised policy, warning private schools would have to make ‘cutbacks’.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told a Mumsnet online discussion yesterday that schools should ‘reflect on where they could be making savings’ to cover the proposed VAT hike.
She said: ‘I’ve always been focused on how we end the tax breaks and how we then use that money to deliver high standards in our state schools.’
Mr Sunak told BBC South Today: ‘Labour’s approach illustrates that they just don’t understand the aspiration of families like my parents who were working really hard.
‘They wanted to do something for their kids that they thought would make a difference to them. Labour’s approach to that is to clamp down on it.
‘They don’t understand the aspiration that people have to provide a better life for their kids. They want to punish them for that as part of some class war. I don’t think that is right.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Labour would be ‘clamping down’ on hard-working parents with aspirations to send their children to independent schools
Labour has U-turned on plans to abolish the charitable status of private schools but insisted it would still add VAT to fees. The policy could hit families with unaffordable charges from as early as next September.
Labour, citing a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, believes changes to the tax rules could raise as much as £1.5 billion per year.
But Shaun Fenton, headteacher at Sir Keir’s former school Reigate Grammar, said the policy of abolishing VAT relief on school fees was ‘not going to help any child be better educated’.
Reigate Grammar in Surrey switched from being a state to an independent school while Sir Keir was in attendance.
Mr Fenton predicted the added tax would drive ‘thousands’ of children into the state system as parents are priced out by the hike in fees.
He told Times Radio: ‘Everyone knows this isn’t really going to raise any money and it’s not going to solve any education problems’.
Last night Labour said Mr Sunak’s comments showed how ‘out of touch’ the PM was.
Ms Phillipson said: ‘The PM’s words are an insult to the aspiration families across Britain have for their children.
‘Yet again, he is out of touch with families and out of step with the change we need.
‘We’re ending tax breaks for private schools to invest in excellent state education for everyone – it is up to private schools as to whether they pass that cost on.’