Adam Wilkinson-Hill: Yes, doing so will benefit children in state schools
What do 54% of journalists, 67% of British Oscar winners, and 74% of judges have in common? They are part of the privately-educated 7% of British society that grotesquely dominates the country’s leading professions.
I don’t doubt that many of the privately educated students reading this have worked incredibly hard to win a place at this great university. But their achievement means nothing for thousands of students in the struggling state sector who, despite working just as hard, don’t have nearly as many opportunities.
Millions go to underfunded state schools. They deserve the same chance to succeed academically, but they are put off. Perhaps this is sometimes due to intimidating stereotypes, but all too often, it’s because teachers must choose between using their to help students apply to top universities or aiding students whose families face crises and rely on food banks.
I welcome Labour’s new policy to integrate private schools into the state network. I recognise that it will require great legislative determination and cultural change to work, but I believe it’s a needed step towards creating a system which is as blind as possible to the number in your parents’ bank account. Labour’s policy is so radical that, for many, taxing private schools is more appealing. Whether as a stepping-stone or a compromise position, we should do so.
Why are privately-educated individuals dominating the upper echelons of British society? It would be insulting to suggest that it was because they were just “born brighter” (let alone the near-eugenicist drivel coming from some commentators). Rather, it is because the short, exclusive ladder from private school to high-paid job is made of one thing: connections.
If the point of a private education is making those connections, then people are paying for a commodity, just like private health insurance. This commodity too should be taxed, with revenues directed towards state schools. It’s shocking that Eton has been subsidised to the tune of millions of pounds whilst other schools can’t afford new textbooks. Classifying private schools as charities is also unjustifiable. Charities are organisations that promote the common good.
Having a tiny elite dominating politics, law, journalism, and culture is definitely not in the interest of the British public. Look at the mess we’re in right now. The answer is simple. We must tax private schools, ring-fence the money for state schools, and create a state education system fit for the 21st century
Yusuf Hassan: No, there are unintended, expensive consequences
aising standards in state education requires investment. But the independent sector should be treated as a valuable resource – not the enemy.
Government austerity measures have failed to ringfence the education budget over the last decade. In England, nearly a third of local authority secondary schools are now in deficit. 90% of English secondary schools are cutting creative subjects. 40% of state sector teachers intend to quit the profession within five years. Shockingly, spending on adult education has almost halved since 2009. Much of this is attributed to cancelling entry level and level 1 courses, often taken by disabled learners and refugees.
This unsustainable situation requires action. One policy proposal that has recently gained traction is the idea of placing taxes on private education. This could be done by collecting full business rates, after stripping private schools of their charitable status. VAT could also be levied on school fees. The money raised would be funneled into state education.
This well-intentioned plan could have unintended consequences. Either option would inevitably increase the financial burden on parents paying for private education. This could lead to students quickly moving into the state sector, swelling class sizes and stretching already set budgets to breaking point. Smaller private schools, especially those serving families in the ‘squeezed-middle’, may not be able to absorb the pressure. Some schools could be forced to close, leaving staff jobless. As private schools generally have more staff per pupil, not all staff would conceivably find employment in the expanding state sector.
Astonishingly, the policy is expected to cost more money than it raises. Private schools classed as businesses rather than charities will be eligible for VAT recovery. In addition, the 600,000 students currently attending independent schools are estimated to save the government £3.5bn annually. External research suggests that in the policy’s fifth year, the Government will experience a net loss of £416m.
Instead of this, legislation could be introduced to mandate real partnership between the state and independent sectors. All private schools could be required to sponsor state schools. This is a workable plan behind highly successful sixth forms like the London Academy of Excellence (LAE). In a nutshell, this ideological plan to tax private education is misguided. Although the policy aims to enhance state education, in reality it would further destabilise an already struggling system.