Britain’s Labour Party Threatens to Cut Private School Tax Breaks

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Plans are being drawn up by Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, to take £700 million in tax breaks from private schools if Labour is put into power.

This means that up to £200 a year could be added to the cost of a private school education. Holly Watt and Graeme Paton, writing for The Telegraph, report that Tristam Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, explained how tax relief will be taken away. The more than 2,000 private schools across Britain can claim up to 80% cut in their business rates because they are charities, which is worth about £150 million a year.

Hunt explained that Labour will oversee the proposed plan to ensure schools qualify for this subsidy if they pass what is being called a new “schools partnership standard.” The proposed system would mandate that private schools provide teachers in special subject areas to state schools in order to share their academic expertise to assist state pupils in achieving enrollment into quality universities.

The partnership would include running joint extra-curricular programs between private schools and state schools so that students from both sectors can learn from one another. However, Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said taking business rate relief away from private schools would not be “a very effective tool to improve social mobility in any meaningful way.”

“Independent schools are committed to helping widen access to their schools and to improving social mobility. Already 90% of our schools are already involved in meaningful and effective partnerships with state schools and their local communities,” said Mr Lenon.

He added that independent schools generate £4.7 billion in tax and save taxpayers another £4 billion by educating students from the state school sector. But Hunt says the “corrosive divide of privilege” was a “Berlin Wall” in the country’s education system.

“The next government will say to them: step up and play your part. Earn your keep. Because the time you could expect something for nothing is over,” he said.

This attack on independent schools is coming from a Labour party in which one in four members of cabinet have been privately-educated, according to Matt Chorley, reporter for the Daily Mail.  Mark Beard, head teacher of University College School, which Hunt attended in the 1980s, said:

“Isn’t it time for Labour to come up with some new, helpful initiatives rather than espousing what some might deem an offensive bigotry?  Indeed, if Mr Hunt wanted to tastelessly quantify the value of public benefit that UCS generates each year then he would find that it far outstrips the value of tax relief that UCS receives through its charitable status.”

Hunt’s intervention comes at the same time that a head teacher at one of England’s top fee-paying schools claimed that some private schools have become so expensive that doctors, lawyers, and teachers cannot afford to have their children educated privately, reports Patrick Wintour of The Guardian.

Ben Riley-Smith, correspondent for The Telegraph, comments that the chairman of the Independent Schools council called the stripping of tax breaks for private schools “patronizing nonsense.”  He also quotes the Head Master of Harrow as saying:

“Last year Oxford University found that a third of its poorest students had been to independent schools. He needs to be careful not to set up a false argument.”

Hunt countered that schools can always learn from one another, and that he wants to break down the barriers among “free schools, grammar schools, private schools, and state schools.”