I was recently contacted by the Independent Schools Council who were putting forward the merits of private education in response to the recent formation of the Labour against private schools group, below is my response:
Thanks for your recent correspondence advocating the contribution of independent schools to the UK. I am aware of the campaign Group “Labour against private schools” to which I believe you are referring. We are appreciative of the work of staff and teachers in all types of school that are educating our young people across Reading to provide them with as bright a future as possible.
The Labour party will create a National Education Service when it forms the next Government that will focus on “tackling structural, cultural and individual barriers which cause and perpetuate inequality”. As I am sure you are aware, around 7% of the UK population attend private schools but contribute 65% of UK judges, 49% of army officers and 29% of MP’s, as well as a disproportionate number of Oxbridge candidates. Labour’s current policy to help aid attainment and pay for free school meals for all school children, is to remove the VAT exemption on private school fees.
The proposed motion from Labour against private schools wishes to go further, to integrate all private schools into the state sector, including the withdrawal of charitable status, and to then democratically redistribute the educational institutions. This motion will be discussed at the parties’ conference later this year.
I have worked as a teacher in a comprehensive school for over a decade and hugely value the contribution they make to society. These schools are where the huge majority of our young people are educated and not selected based upon ability from a young age or their parents income. These school foster an environment of collaboration, fairness and equal value that the Labour party holds dear.
You discuss the economic contribution that independent schools make to the UK in terms of tax and GDP. Currently, independent school fees are averaging around £17,000 per year which are largely funded by parents of the children that attend your schools. If Independent schools were incorporated into a fully comprehensive system (as was undertaken in Finland), then this large sum of money could be used by parents in a range of other ways, contributing to the UK economy. In terms of tax, as an employee of a state school I am aware that funding for each individual secondary school student per year is around £4000, some way short of the £17,000 average charged in independent schools. To my knowledge the motion is not advocating getting rid of these schools as educational institutions but changing how they are run to reflect a fairer and modern society.
You say that “Independent schools provide excellence, capacity and innovation in our education system. Abolishing independent schools would fail to improve provision for state pupils. The state sector would face higher costs and bigger class sizes.” This is a somewhat debatable point. A recent policy exchange report showed that, while some private schools do a good job of educating children and young people, many do not. The value added scores of the top comprehensive schools at A-level and GCSE out do those from the independent sector, often with far fewer resources.
Under this Government our school pupils have seen an average funding cut of 8% per student whilst tax policies are still benefiting schools serving Britain’s richest. The Labour party’s vision is of a country that works for the many, not just the privileged few. This needs to start from how we educate our children, in a fair and equal way from the very start.
Lead Cllr for Education