LAURA PERRINS: Don't let Labour wreck the private school system

LAURA PERRINS: Don’t let Labour wreck the private school system – it’s one of the few institutions that still works

So it beggars belief that one of Labour’s first moves in government – should it win the next election – would be to slap a punitive 20 per cent tax on private school fees by removing their VAT exemption.

The party is dressing this up as a policy of fairness, claiming that the £1.7billion raised will be spent on improving state education. But this has nothing to do with fairness – and everything to do with the politics of envy.

Sir Keir Starmer makes no secret of his vendetta against private schools with cheap jibes about Rishi Sunak’s alma mater Winchester College – and its ‘rowing club, rifle club and extensive art collections’. 

In fact, the Labour Party assumes that all private schools are like Winchester, Eton and Harrow – with Olympic-class sporting facilities, five-star dining and fees of £50,000 a year.

LAURA PERRINS: This pledge from the Labour Party is poisonous, petty and destructive

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most private schools are modest institutions. The advantage they have over their state counterparts is their ability to offer smaller class sizes and more sports and arts. This is what parents up and down the country scrimp and save to afford, forgoing foreign holidays and home improvements so that their child can have the best start in life.

I used to be a governor at a small London private school. After much agonising, we decided to send my eldest son there after he began struggling at his state primary. The pain of the financial sacrifice was outweighed by the way he flourished in smaller classrooms.

READ MORE: Labour faces a backlash over its plans to put VAT on school fees immediately if the party wins power 

Fellow parents included NHS workers, teachers, hard-working immigrants and single mothers who worked all hours to pay the fees. They did not send their children there through snobbery or elitism.

Yet these are the parents who are being punished by Labour’s attack on private schools. Many will no longer be able to afford the 20 per cent rise in fees.

It’s the uber-wealthy and elite schools who can absorb the fee rise. Under Labour’s plans, the likes of Eton will end up as glorified finishing schools for international students, whose parents won’t notice the increases, and hard-working British families will be priced out.

Meanwhile, smaller schools will fold, causing the loss of tens of thousands of jobs (private schools are often major local employers, especially in rural areas).

As a result, parents will be forced to send their children to already over-subscribed state schools. The taxpayer will have to fund their education at £8,000 per pupil. 

With 615,000 pupils currently privately educated in the UK, this could be a hefty bill. Our independent schools are a great British success story. Yet Labour wants to take a wrecking ball to this flourishing sector to score short-term political points.

Sir Keir Starmer makes no secret of his vendetta against private schools with cheap jibes about Rishi Sunak’s alma mater Winchester College (pictured)

Tearing down successful schools won’t automatically raise state school standards as the party claims.

Middle-class parents forced to withdraw their children from fee-paying schools will buy houses near outstanding state schools, squeezing out lower earners and making these schools even more oversubscribed. They’ll spend their money on tutoring instead. Social mobility will be harmed, not helped.

In recent years, the Tories have worked hard to help families with the rising cost of living, from subsiding energy bills to the furlough scheme during the pandemic and even extending the free school meals programme. Yet Labour merely want to play politics.

The private school system is one of the last things in Britain that works. We cannot let Starmer destroy it.

Laura Perrins is a former barrister and co-editor of The Conservative Woman website

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