Independent School Fees: VAT

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 5:00, 21 February 2024

It is pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Henderson. I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer for bringing forward this debate.

I will focus on the consequences of removing the current VAT exemption for independent schools. It is clear that this change would lead to a rise in school fees, as schools are forced to pass on the cost to parents in order to keep running. That would immediately mean that many parents, who may only just be able to afford the fees as they stand, would no longer be able to continue sending their children to private school. In fact, I calculated that one of my local Nottinghamshire high schools would lose around 20% of its children. Smaller schools would struggle to survive at that rate and may close. That would mean job losses and loss of choice for local parents regarding their child’s education.

I was recently contacted by my constituent, Dr Sharmini, a local school governor who is incredibly concerned about the potential change. She emphasised that it is not the most wealthy and their children who will be affected, but parents who work incredibly hard and make sacrifices to send their children to independent schools.

It is important to emphasise that this change would also have a knock-on effect on non-fee-paying schools, which would see an increase in pupils. That could mean larger class sizes and greater resources being required in non-fee-paying schools. It may also result in children having to move schools in very short time spans.

I am a veteran, and this is the sort of thing that would affect military families. They may have to move mid-school year, and they make good use of independent schools and boarding schools because of that. This change will have a large effect on the lives of children who will have to move. We are removing children from their teachers and friends, and for many that will be very distressing.

My team spoke with the head of a local private school in Nottinghamshire today. He had huge concerns about the use of the school’s facilities. As it stands, sports facilities and facilities such as halls are given over to a huge variety of local clubs at no cost. He stated that if VAT came in, the school would be forced to look at more economical ways of renting out those spaces and would not be financially able to continue lending them out for free.

That head also emphasised the difference between the big private boarding schools and smaller independent day schools. It is the small independent schools that will be hurt most by this change, and many may not survive the loss of students. The focus of all Members in this House must be on ensuring that every child has the best possible education; that is what I will be focusing on in Broxtowe.