Independent School Fees: VAT

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 4:47, 21 February 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Henderson. I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer on securing this important debate.

Labour’s plans to charge VAT and end business rate relief for independent schools is based on the politics of envy, from a party that wants to crush aspiration and ambition. Labour says its primary motivation is to generate revenue to invest in the state education system and that the policy might raise £1.7 billion for that purpose. Well, Labour had better get building more schools, because it intends to implement the policy as soon as Keir Starmer enters Downing Street, with no consultation or risk analysis. What a nonsense. The policy will harm both the state and the independent sector, and there will be an exodus of pupils into an increasingly stretched state system, with some independent schools closing altogether.

We must not trust Labour with our schools. About 12 years ago, the OECD “Education at a Glance” report found that expenditure on schools as a percentage of GDP increased from 3.6% in 1995 to 4.5% in 2009. The OECD average was 4%. Billions of pounds of spending went into schools under the last Labour Government, but that huge increase in spending led to no improvement in student learning outcomes. UK teenagers slipped down the league tables in crucial subjects, while our schools became the most segregated in the world, with Britain’s immigrant children clustered in the most disadvantaged schools. Primary school class sizes were bigger only in places such as Turkey and Chile, and there was an alarming rise in children not in education, employment or training. Taxpayers failed to get value for money and Labour’s policies had little impact.

Labour will never understand that it is not just about money; it is about leadership and structure. We have some amazing headteachers in Hastings and Rye. I will not name them, but they know who they are, and they work best with the support of positive and effective Government policy, and with the support of their academy trusts. In Hastings and Rye, 32% of schools were rated as being good or outstanding in 2010, compared with 82% in 2022. There is more work to do, but it can be done, as we have seen from the Conservative Government’s record, without destroying our valuable independent sector.

I have two independent schools in my beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye: Claremont and Buckswood. Buckswood boards about 50 pupils from 48 different countries and has 200 local day-school pupils. Both schools have lower fees for local children, and they have a diverse mix of children, which contributes to a rich cultural environment—one that would not normally be expected in a coastal community. Thos schools enrich our communities, to the benefit of all our residents.