Independent School Fees: VAT

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:19 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 5:19, 21 February 2024

My right hon. Friend, as always, talks very sensibly about this. The independent sector is a major contributor to our ecosystem. Of course, many teachers flip flop between the different sectors; the innovation in the private sector can also help the state sector, which is one of the many benefits that we have heard about today. In terms of the broader performance in the education system, not only do the Opposition consistently talk down the economy, our constituencies and our businesses but they also talk down our teaching profession. Actually, it is incredibly successful and we should be proud of what teachers have achieved.

Our commitment to quality education has seen 89% of all schools achieve “good” or “outstanding” at their most recent inspection, an increase from 68% back in 2010 under Labour. In the programme for international student assessment, our rankings for reading and maths improved by 10 places from 2015 to 2022 to ninth and 10th across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Within that mix, as we all know, England performed better than Labour-run Wales or SNP-run Scotland, despite their higher funding. If we want to see what would happen in education under Labour, all we need to do is look to Wales—it is not an impressive performance. In the latest paediatric adverse childhood experiences and related life-events screener assessment of reading for 10-year-old students across 57 education systems, England ranked fourth internationally. I think we can all accept that those are good things.

This Conservative Government believe that there is a broad public benefit in the provision of education. That is why many education and training services are exempt from VAT, which includes an exemption on independent school fees. Labour does not seem to recognise the public good, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings just mentioned. It wants to charge VAT on school fees and end business rates relief for private schools, taxing aspiration and inevitably putting more pressure on state schools.