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UK: sector blasts Labour’s pledge to abolish independent schools

The UK’s opposition party has voted to effectively abolish independent schools by removing their charitable status and forcing state schools to be permitted to use their assets – a move that has been widely criticised by various stakeholders.

Stakeholders claim that the economic fallout to the UK will be "huge" if independent schools are abolished. Photo: D'Overbroecks

The proposal has faced considerable backlash from UK stakeholders

The pledge to “integrate” private schools into the state sector was unanimously passed after a vote at the party’s annual conference in Brighton. It will be included in Labour’s next party manifesto.

“Tearing down excellent schools does not improve our education system”

“We will set [a] commission to making the whole education system fairer through the integration of private schools,” shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said.

The party will clarify the steps a Labour government would take, but Rayner added that its first budget would seek to “immediately close the tax loopholes used by elite private schools and use that money to improve the lives of all children”.

“Private schools are gaming the system,” Rayner told The Observer.

“There is way too much state money going in, and people who go to private schools seem to be given a head start for all of the top jobs and that’s something that needs to be dealt with,” the Labour MP said.

However, the proposal has faced considerable backlash from UK stakeholders.

“Abolition would represent an act of national self-harm,” Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said in a statement.

“Tearing down excellent schools does not improve our education system. The repercussions would be irreversible and far-reaching, damaging educational opportunities and limiting life chances,” she continued.

Robinson added that independent schools contribute nearly £14bn to UK GDP each year and save the taxpayer £3.5billion per year through the education of children and young people at no cost to the taxpayer.

“Tearing down excellent schools does not improve our education system”

Caroline Nixon, general secretary at the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students, noted that for its members the move does not “make sense economically or morally”, and adds to the pressure that small and rural boarding schools have been experiencing.

“The economic fallout to the whole country will be huge if independent schools are abolished,” Nixon said.

“Independent UK education is a huge export. Our schools are seen across the world as offering the best education globally – that is the reason why international parents spend the money on sending their children here and are prepared to be separated from their children for long periods of time,” she told The PIE News.

In 2017, non-British pupils at ISC schools supported around £1.8 billion of gross value added in the UK, supporting 39,310 jobs and generating £550 million in annual tax revenues, according to ISC.

Similarly, Nixon highlighted that schools in rural areas may be “the main employer in that area”, hiring teachers as well as support staff.

“Typically, our members have a significant percentage of international pupils and these pupils not only pay the salaries of the staff but they subsidise British pupils through scholarships and bursaries,” Nixon explained.

“The stereotype of pupils at independent schools being rich or privileged simply isn’t true.”

Students from overseas also spend substantial amounts of money on travel, accommodation during holidays, food and entertainment, she added.

The move would be a “huge own goal, not only economically but in terms of our standing abroad”.

“People understandably ask themselves why a major political party would threaten a sector in which we lead the world.

“The damage that will be done to our reputation will thus extend even further. The soft power that the UK exerts throughout the world by educating international children who go back home and become the leaders and opinion formers of the future will also be lost.

“Why would we do this to ourselves?” said Nixon.

Colin Bell CEO of Council of British International Schools noted that independent school in the UK are an important pathway to higher education in the country for students from other countries.

“Why would we do this to ourselves?”

“COBIS member schools are based outside the UK, however, a significant number of families choose at some stage to send their children to independent schools and then universities based in the UK,” he said.

“The outstanding quality and reputation of the UK education sector, which includes UK independent schools, is something which COBIS recognises and continues to promote and support,” Bell added.

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