The head of Sir Keir Starmer’s former school has warned that Labour’s plan to impose VAT on private schools will not provide the funding boost state schools need.
Shaun Fenton, the head of Reigate Grammar School, a former selective state school that became private while Sir Keir was a pupil in the 1970s, said “attacking” independent schools was a “disappointing distraction”.
His intervention came after it emerged that Labour plans to impose VAT on private school fees in its first year in power if it wins the next election, risking an imminent fee rise for parents.
Mr Fenton told The Telegraph: “‘The independent sector stands ready to work with a Keir Starmer government to help our country’s children, to help boost teacher recruitment and retention, be part of a national review of curriculum and qualifications, develop more intelligent accountability and inspections.
“Taxing seven per cent of children won’t fund ambitious school improvement programmes for 93 per cent, and it certainly won’t provide the funding boost that state school leaders need.
“In fact it may not raise much money at all, with the movement of many families out of the independent sector back to being educated at the cost of the taxpayer in the state sector.”
Labour has argued that its policy to end private schools’ charitable status and other perks would raise £1.7 billion, “every penny” of which would be redistributed to the state sector. However, there is a grave concern within the independent sector over unintended consequences of the proposals.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank has estimated that Labour’s VAT raid will push up to 40,000 children out of private schools and into the state sector. One former head warned that the policy would harm children with special needs in mainstream private schools.
Meanwhile, Rod Grant, who is in charge of Clifton Hall school in Edinburgh, said Sir Keir’s plan would mean the “death knell” for voluntary initiatives aimed at increasing social diversity in the independent sector.
He predicted that the tax policy would mean “the potential demise of a large number of independent schools”. In those that were able to remain open, many children would be forced to leave because of rising fees and bursaries being axed, he claimed.
Labour this week did not deny reports that the changes would be made within 12 months of taking power, with a spokesman insisting the party “makes no apology” for a “relentless focus” on driving up standards in the state sector.
But Barnaby Lenon, a former head of Harrow and the chairman of the Independent Schools Council said: “Given the many issues which remain unresolved, such as whether VAT will apply to the many special needs children, children in care and those children from low income homes on large fee reductions, it would seem that a carefully considered approach would be sensible.”