Labour policy on private schools is 'abolition by the back door'

Fiona Boulton, chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference tells its autumn conference that the policy is 'based on ignorance and the desire to damage'

Fiona Boulton
Fiona Boulton

Imposing new taxes on independent schools would be "abolition by the back door", the chair of the body that represents their head teachers has warned.

In a speech at the autumn conference of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in London today, Fiona Boulton said polling showed a lack of public support for abolishing independent schools and warned against efforts to close schools and integrate them into the public sector.

Her speech came in response to a motion passed unanimously at the Labour Party conference last week that committed the party’s next manifesto to include a section saying endowments, investments and properties held by private schools should "be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions".

It also said charitable status should be withdrawn from private schools.

A number of legal experts have warned that Labour’s approach might be unfeasible and could have unintended side-effects for the rest of the charity sector.

ComRes polling for the HMC shows that 68 per cent of the public think independent schools should be an option for parents, with only 18 per cent opposed to their existence.

Fifty-six per cent of Labour voters, 70 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 83 per cent of Conservatives were found to support to the option of private schools.

Half of respondents supported policies to help pay for children from lower-income backgrounds to go to independent schools, with a quarter opposed.

In her speech, Boulton said: "Do not be fooled into thinking that imposing crippling taxes is anything other than abolition by the back door. It would ensure that many independent schools would not survive and others will become more expensive. State schools will see larger class sizes and burgeoning costs.

"The decision taken by Labour conference to abolish our schools was based on ignorance and the desire to damage, while independent schools have for years been quietly educating children, alongside creating free and discounted places, sponsoring successful academies and delivering more than 5,000 helpful projects in state schools’ communities."

The Labour proposals came after the Barclay Review in Scotland suggested removing business rates relief for independent schools, although the Labour policy goes considerably further.

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