Independent School Fees: VAT

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 5:12, 21 February 2024

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Henderson. I congratulate Andrew Lewer for bringing forward this debate on independent schools and VAT. Many Members have made contributions about the role that independent schools play in their communities. In my own constituency, thousands of children receive a high-quality education at independent schools including Dulwich College, James Allen’s Girls’ School, Herne Hill School, Alleyn’s School and others besides.

I will address some of the comments made by hon. and right hon. Members this afternoon. On the analogy made by the hon. Member for Northampton South about private schools and the difference between private jets and jacuzzis, we would want every school to represent and fulfil the aspirations that parents have for their children. That is at the nub of this debate, which is about the quality of education received by the 93% of children who attend state schools in relation to the quality of education received by a privileged 7% of children. [Interruption.] I am going to make some progress, I am afraid—I will not take interventions right away.

We all want the best education for our children; every single parent wants the best education for their child. That is why the next Labour Government will do what previous Labour Governments have done: drive up standards in our schools and put education back at the centre of our national life so that we can break down the barriers to opportunity across our country. This debate is focused specifically—[Interruption.] I do not know who was chuntering from a sedentary position about what happened last time, but as a London MP I can tell them exactly what happened last time: it was called the London Challenge and it transformed education in the state sector in my constituency and across London. We went from a situation where our schools were failing under the Conservatives to a situation where they are now delivering brilliantly for all our children.

As many hon. Members have mentioned, the Labour party is committed to levying VAT on independent schools and ending their business rates exemptions. We have committed to doing that because we believe in driving high and rising standards in all our schools. Across this country, more than nine in 10 children attend state schools. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies reported last year on policies in relation to VAT and tax exemptions for private schools. In brief, it found that our proposals would have little effect on the number of children being educated in private schools, but would lead to a net gain to the public purse of at least £1.3 billion per year. I appreciate some of the concerns raised in the debate today, but I urge right hon. and hon. Members to look in more detail at the IFS report’s findings.