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Labour private school plans ‘an attack on parents’, says headteacher

By Dominic Robertson | Wellington | Education | Published:

Labour's plans to effectively abolish private schools represent an "attack" on parents who choose to spend money on their children's education, a Shropshire headteacher has claimed.

Martin Stott, headmaster at Old Hall School, in Wellington

Martin Stott, headmaster at Old Hall School, in Wellington, has hit back at the Labour Party plans, which were agreed in a motion at its conference last month.

Mr Stott, whose school is a 4 to 11 co-educational day school, said parents paying to send their children to private schools are effectively paying for education twice.

The Labour Party motion supports policies that would take away charitable status for private schools, would add VAT to fees, restrict their pupils’ access to higher education, and redistribute their endowments, investments and properties to the state sector.

Mr Stott said that private education is one of the country's most successful 'products' and that it would make no sense to scrap it.

Old Hall School in Wellington

He said: "The abolition of private schools by integrating them all into the state sector is surely simply an attack on those parents who choose to spend their money on their children's education.

"Many parents work incredibly hard and use much of their hard-earned income to give their children what they believe is the best possible start in life.

"Not all independent school parents are rich and in fact many parents make serious sacrifices to send their children to independent schools and shouldn't be pilloried because of their choices. Independent schools, many of them charities, also offer support to thousands of children who receive bursaries which enable them to attend.

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"Many other parents choose to spend their money on different priorities and are not criticised for that. Will the next step be the banning of private medical care? After all, why should individuals be allowed to pay to improve their own and their families health just because they can?"

Changes would 'flood state schools with extra pupils'

Currently there are 811 pupils attending six private schools in Telford and Wrekin, and 5,179 pupils attending 28 private schools in Shropshire.

Mr Stott said that the planned charges for the private sector would "flood" state schools with extra pupils.

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He said: "There are 600,000 children (seven per cent of the UK's children) being educated in the independent sector in the UK. Those children's parents have not opted out of paying for state schooling and are effectively paying twice for their children's education – one rarely hears them complaining about that.

"This saves the tax-payer £3.5 billion a year. If the independent sector is faced with VAT on fees and business rates, many independent schools will close and the state system will be flooded with all the extra pupils.

"Independent education is a massive contributor to the UK economy and is one of the most successful 'products' we export and produce. We would be mad to scrap something which is so highly successful because it's not accessible by every child in the UK.

"Shouldn't the Labour Party's energy be focused on improving the lot of the 93 per cent of children educated by the state – by improving pupil-teacher ratios, facilities, sport, music, drama, teachers' pay and conditions?"

Mr Stott also suggested that it would be fair to give parents a choice of how their tax for schools is spent.

He said: "Perhaps parents should be given a voucher when their child is born, which entitles them to cash it in for a state education or which they can take to an independent school and top up to the value of the fees – if we're talking about fairness, wouldn't that be the way to go?"

Speaking at the Labour conference, Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, said: "Boris Johnson has broken his promise to tackle the tax privileges enjoyed by private schools.

“The next Labour government will immediately close those tax loopholes and use that money to improve the lives of all children.

"Our Social Justice Commission will look at how private schools can best be integrated into the education system to make it fairer for all children, regardless of their background.”

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