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Exclusive: 'Hypocrite' Keir Starmer benefited from private school charity

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer personally benefited from a private school’s charity, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Labour leader, who has vowed to axe the charitable status of independent schools, received a bursary to fund his sixth form studies at the fee-paying Reigate Grammar School.

Sir Keir won a place at the school in 1974 after passing the 11-plus entrance exam. When he joined it was a grammar school but two years later, following the abolition of the direct grant, it became an independent, fee-paying institution.

Records from Surrey County Council state that it agreed to pay for pupils’ fees up to the age of 16, if they had enrolled in the school before September 1975.

If these students wished to remain at the school in its sixth-form – and their families were unable to afford the fees – they were offered a range of bursaries and scholarships by the school itself, The Telegraph understands.

A spokesman for Sir Keir said he “definitely wasn’t self-funded” during sixth-form, but did not deny that he received a bursary from the school, adding that he “doesn’t recall” who exactly footed the bill.

On Saturday a Tory party source accused the Labour leader of “staggering hypocrisy”, adding: “He literally wants to kick out the same ladder that he personally climbed from other people. It’s one rule for Labour politicians, another rule for everyone else”.

Private schools would lose £1.7bn

Sir Keir has announced that he intends to pursue Jeremy Corbyn's policy of scrapping private schools’ charitable status.

The move would result in independent schools losing their 20 per cent VAT exemption – worth £1.7 billion – and having to pay £104 million in business rates. Labour said the money would be used to fund education in the state sector.

Private school leaders have warned that scrapping the charitable status will push up fees for parents and make it far more difficult for institutions to provide generous programmes of bursaries and scholarships to children from deprived families.

They also argue that the policy would be loss-making because of the number of pupils who would be unable to afford a hike in fees, increasing the burden on the state sector within five years of the policy being imposed.

Brandon Clarke-Smith, a Tory MP, claimed that Sir Keir was employing double standards over his stance on private schools. “If you look at their benches there are plenty of people who have attended private schools over the years,” he said.

“I would not criticise them for attending, but they should not be taking away other people's right to do so. To take that choice away from other people after you have been a direct beneficiary is the height of hypocrisy.”

Andrew Lewer, a Conservative MP who sits on the education select committee, said it was “surprising” that someone who has “directly benefitted” from private schools’ charitable work had not developed a "better appreciation" for the sector.

Leader fond of his time at school

Reigate Grammar School, which now charges annual fees of £21,585, was founded in 1675 as a free school for poor boys.

Sir Keir has spoken fondly of his time there, remarking last year that he was a “bit of a lad” because he once got a detention for “fighting” behind the school sheds.

His contemporaries at the school include Norman Cook, the musician better known by his stage name Fatboy Slim, and Andrew Sullivan, a conservative journalist.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: "In fulfilment of their charitable obligations, most independent schools have made a huge effort to raise bursary money, enabling children from disadvantaged homes to go to their schools.

"Anything which increases the costs of independent schools such as the removal of charitable benefits will directly impact the reach of these bursaries."

A spokesman for Sir Keir rejected claims of hypocrisy, adding: “Hypocrisy is Tory MPs accepting that state schools need funding, yet voting against ending tax breaks for private schools which would inject billions into the system.

“Aspiration isn’t the preserve of parents who can afford to pay. Going to a brilliant school shouldn’t be reliant on private school choices trickling down. Keir was lucky to receive a high-quality, free education.

“As prime minister, he will make sure all kids have the same life chances, no matter their family income. We’re not against private schools; we’re against unfair tax breaks for private schools."

Shaun Fenton, headmaster of Reigate Grammar School, said: “We are committed to wanting to work collaboratively with anyone, Government or anyone else, who wants to help improve the consistency of excellent educational opportunities for all children.”