‘Every child in this country deserves access to the best possible education’


Labour’s plan to increase taxation on independent schools is not the magical solution it’s being portrayed as, says Benenden Head Samantha Price


Every child in this country deserves access to the best possible education. This is not a controversial statement, and I’m sure Keir Starmer and I are very much in agreement on this point.

It is clear to see that the state education sector in this country is in drastic need of investment. Again, few would disagree with this assessment. However, Starmer’s proposed tax on aspiration, which would see parents charged 20 per cent VAT on fees, is not the miracle solution he might think it is.

Starmer’s position is nothing new – Labour have long threatened to remove the charitable status which applies to many independent schools (which, for the record, are registered charities because they deliver education for children and are non-profit making), along with exemptions on VAT and business tax. I don’t propose getting embroiled in a debate about the political ideology around independent schools here because wherever you sit on this issue, the most fundamental aspect is to determine whether Labour’s plan to raise the quoted £1.7 billion stacks up financially.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Far from raising any money at all, the policy would in fact leave a £400millon hole in the schools’ budget. This has been calculated on independent schools reclaiming VAT on expenditure (which, as charities, they currently cannot), the loss of VAT on fees income owing to students leaving the sector, and the cost of educating the children who move into the state sector. This hardly seems prudent economics.

Perhaps more significant, however, would be the impact on the independent sector’s ability to support the state sector.

Despite what some politicians may have you believe, there is no battle between the state and independent education sectors. In fact, the two already work closely together in the interests of all children and the wider community. For example, at Benenden last year students and staff devoted the equivalent of 157 days to volunteering projects in the local community, including regularly supporting five local primary and pre-schools, the village shop and charities helping elderly people and those with dementia.

In addition, we are a proud sponsor of The John Wallis Church of England Academy in Ashford, which involves sharing resources, running partnership activities such as a Combined Cadet Force, offering student mentoring and sharing best practice with one another. It is a genuinely two-way relationship, with Benenden gaining as much from our partnership as John Wallis.

We are also in the midst of a fundraising campaign to increase our partnership work and offer even more bursaries.

I’m not saying all this activity will stop if VAT is introduced on fees. Such work is simply the right thing to do, and we will always do our best to support the community, but the harsh reality is this all costs money, and less money will squeeze the positive impact we can all have on state schools – precisely the sector that Labour is, laudably, aiming to support.

Far from being a magical cure-all, I fear that Keir Starmer’s policy will backfire for his party – and the country.

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