ISC response to Daily Telegraph article on future of independent schools

Posted on: 13 Sept 2019
Posted by: Julie Robinson

Responding to a Daily Telegraph article today on Labour plans to impose VAT on independent school fees, ISC Chief Executive Julie Robinson said:

“A punitive tax measure such as VAT on fees would ultimately hurt the country’s education system, particularly state schools. As well as making independent school education an unaffordable choice for many families, smaller schools would certainly close, resulting in a sudden increase in the numbers of young people needing places at state schools – swelling class sizes and piling pressure on already-stretched budgets.

“Currently, 600,000 children are educated in independent schools, saving the taxpayer £3.5billion per year. These schools employ tens of thousands of teachers and support staff and a drop-off in the number of independent school pupils would result in staff redundancies. Along with job losses, there would be negative impact on many local suppliers, who rely on independent schools as part of their supply chain.

“In addition to not taking pupil displacement into account, the policy fails to address VAT recovery, something schools would become eligible for if it were introduced. Analysis by Baines Cutler shows that the policy would not raise money, but would end up costing any Government at least £416m in its fifth year and will not provide money to support spending pledges. There is a clear contradiction in a policy that aims to raise revenue from independent schools and reduce demand for them at the same time”.

On reports that abolition of the sector was potentially being discussed, Julie Robinson said:

“Any commitment to abolishing independent schools is an attack on the right of parents to choose the education best suited to their child’s needs - a right enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Fundamentally, you do not improve education by tearing down excellent schools, nor is education a zero-sum game where outcomes in one school improve because another one disappears. The focus should be on improving education for the 93% of children educated in the state sector. We all want to see more funding for state schools and greater support for underperforming pupils.

"Independent school parents and their children should not be blamed for social inequality which has far more complex causes - putting politics before pupils is simply unacceptable. Parents make great sacrifices to exercise their freedom to choose an independent education. They have paid for state school places through their taxes but choose not to take these up.

"In addition to causing widespread and irreversible disruption to hundreds of thousands of children and their families, we understand this abolition pledge would involve the state unilaterally seizing private property. The impact on society of setting such a dangerous precedent would be huge and have wide-ranging implications. Put simply, abolishing independent schools will not improve the overall quality of our nation’s education. Such a move would further swell state school class sizes and cost the state sector, which is already under extreme financial pressure, billions more than the £3.5billion per year currently saved through the education of children and young people outside of state schools.

"The UK has a diverse education system in which schools are able to work together to improve educational outcomes. Our overall goal must be to maintain healthy state and independent schools that increasingly work in partnership to provide excellent education for all children.”