Education experts have criticized Jeremy Hunt’s use of data from the leading private schools lobby group to justify his decision not to raise £1.7billion by adding VAT to tuition fees.
Delivering his autumn statement on Thursday, the chancellor brushed aside Labor’s policy of increasing funding for struggling state schools by ending tax breaks for private schools, saying it would be ‘convenient’ instead of to be “ideological”. Referring to “some estimates” that up to 90,000 pupils from private schools would move to public schools, he failed to mention that this statistic came from a 2018 report by the Independent Schools Council lobby group.
Dr Malcolm James, lecturer in accounting and taxation at Cardiff Metropolitan University, who has published research on tax breaks in private schools and rising tuition fees in the sector, said: “It seems to have only looked at the ISC evidence – but, of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
James said many families with children in private school would have no problem paying a 10 per cent tuition increase and schools would step in to help those who struggled to do so.
He added: “Ninety thousand pupils are simply not going to be abandoned in the public sector, at least not overnight, because it would disrupt the education of children far too much.”
Helen Barnard, associate director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is possible that some smaller and less wealthy private schools will close, but many, especially the larger and more established ones, would not be affected to this degree by a change in VAT”
She added: “Private schools massively benefit the wealthy, giving access to powerful jobs and higher salaries and widening inequality, so I don’t think giving them tax breaks is an appropriate use of public money. .”
Bridget Phillipson, Labor shadow education secretary, said: “Ending tax relief for private schools should have been an easy choice for the Chancellor. Yet, once again, he chose to protect the wealthiest, while reaching into the pockets of working people.
She pointed out that the cost of private education has already increased in recent years, but parents still choose this option.
Labor has pledged to use the £1.7billion generated by the end of these tax breaks to recruit more than 6,500 new teachers and give every child access to a mental health counselor at school. school and professional career advice.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said the government could no longer afford to ignore the “humanitarian crisis” unfolding in underfunded public schools. He said: “The stark truth is that the chasm between private and public schools has only widened in recent years, whether in terms of funding, school exam results, selective university places or results in life.”
Although the school sector was relieved not to receive the cuts many expected on Thursday, many school leaders stressed that the extra £2.3bn a year promised by the government would not be enough to make up for the huge deficits caused by the unfunded increase in teachers’ salaries. and spiraling energy bills.
Vic Goddard, headmaster of Passmores Academy Secondary School in Essex, said schools would receive an extra £70,000 next year, but added: “Unfortunately it does nothing to help us with a shortfall of half a million this year.”
Suzanne Best, head teacher at Great Kingshill Primary School in High Wycombe, said: ‘We are not asking for the land, just enough to pay our staff and put paper, toilet paper, soap and other essentials in our schools.”
The ISC said its report was the work of an independent consultancy specializing in independent school funding: “Their data, which was collected before the financial impacts of Covid and the cost of living crisis n have hit British families, has been independently corroborated by a later, independent ASCL survey of headteachers.