‘Clear contradiction’ in Labour’s plans to tax independent schools – ISC

The Independent Schools Council has said plans to remove the charitable status of independent schools would make education in the sector “unaffordable”, resulting in more pupils needing state school places

Associations in the independent schools sector say there is a “clear contradiction” in Labour’s policy on removing the charitable status of independent schools.

On the second day of the party’s annual conference, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said private schools would be taxed £1.7bn to fund improvements to state schools if they win the next election.

The chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), Julie Robinson, said: “Removing charitable status and putting VAT on school fees would penalise parents, be a tax on learning, and ultimately not raise the money claimed.

“It would make independent school education an unaffordable choice for many families, forcing the closure of smaller schools and resulting in more pupils needing state school places – swelling class sizes and piling pressure on already-stretched budgets.

“We know from research that adding VAT on school fees would cost any government at least £416m in its fifth year and will not provide the money to support spending pledges. There is a clear contradiction in a policy that aims to raise revenue from independent schools and reduce demand for them at the same time.”

The general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), Dr Simon Hyde, said: “Independent schools contribute nearly £14bn to the UK economy every year, support more than 300,000 jobs and save the taxpayer another £3.5bn annually through the education of 600,000 children and young people, at no additional cost.

“Research by Baines Cutler has shown that removing the charitable status of independent schools would not yield the amounts suggested but would instead end up costing the taxpayer significant sums of money, as schools would be eligible for VAT recovery. Schools currently pay PAYE, business rates and VAT and pay significant sums in tax every year.”

Robinson encouraged all independent schools to “work together in partnership” with state schools to benefit all pupils.

Hyde said that all HMC schools are involved in partnerships with local state sector schools, bringing cultural, sporting, academic and pastoral benefits and opportunities to pupils in state schools.


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1 Comment
  • Alastair Gloag

    I think that the point here is that ‘independent schools’ are an emotive topic and a symbol of inequality so far as many in the country are concerned. This means that whilst politicians will speak in headlines as Sir Kier has today, the arguments – as outlined above – don’t get the same easy airing. We all know that many who send their children to independent schools do so because they sacrifice things that those who don’t send their children continue to do and consume. They are hard-working people who have made a life choice for their children. Perhaps it is the extra-curricular programme or the support that their child might get around a particular learning issue. Ultimately, should the policy be enacted, many schools will be forced to close, extinguishing another educational flame whist ensuring that the richest and most elite schools sail on. In other words, this policy sounds attractive but actually, it will create intense elitism and once the government has had its pound of flesh, killed off the majority of the sector and then started to fund all the children that will now be out of school, they will have served the old boys club and the ‘public schools’ profoundly well whilst creating a huge new problem for the state and no money. You can’t pay VAT on fees if the school is closed and there are no fees.

    Sadly, once again, independent education is being used as a political device to serve the needs of politicians. Independent schools, along with their state colleagues, provide opportunity and leaven into an education system that needs variety and opportunity. Most schools I have any dealings with are not deeply wealthy but operate solely on the fees that they charge. At the same time they put together many routes to access their school, for families who might not ordinarily be able to. A better thought might be a return to the Assisted Places Scheme, which in the town I started teaching in provided a really good opportunity for a very large number of children to attend their ‘local’ school. It has been said that if someone in London sees a really valuable car, they will scratch their key down the side. If someone in America sees the same car, they say, “One day I will have one of those.” This is a very flawed and limited saying, but this relentless ideological recycling of implausible but electorally, perhaps, popular (in some quarters) arguments feels like a key. They are short-sighted and ill-informed, and they will only serve to make the independent sector the ‘public schools’ that always were and which are the bastions of privilege that they so decry.

    On top of that, the state will have a bigger bill and all of the ‘windfall’ will have to be spent on finding additional spaces for all the children who will need them… whilst at the same time losing the huge contribution the sector currently makes to GDP. I think, Sir Kier, that in your revered footballing terms, we call that an own goal. Others would say you are cutting your nose off to spite your face. Come and see the average independent school. Talk to us and understand us. We live in a world that allows you to make personal choices. So use policy to support people, give them hope and work with the sector to make it as accessible as possible. At the same time, you’ll find that you probably end up with money money in the treasury…

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