Keir Starmer faces backlash over 20% VAT hike on private school fees

Sir Keir Starmer faces backlash over plans for a 20% VAT hike on private school fees that could push 90,000 extra pupils into already stressed state system

  • Sir Keir Starmer to strip private schools of charity status if he is Prime Minister 
  • The move would force an estimated 90,000 children to switch to state sector
  • Sir Keir was a pupil at Reigate Grammar School when it became fee paying 

Sir Keir Starmer was facing a fierce backlash last night over a proposed ‘class-war’ tax of 20 per cent on private schools, which critics said would restrict access for all but the children of the super-rich.

The Labour leader, who was a pupil at Reigate Grammar School when it transitioned into a fee-paying institution, has pledged to strip private schools of their charitable status if he becomes Prime Minister – meaning their fees will be subject to VAT.

Schools can claim the status in return for acts that benefit the local community, such as sharing their facilities with neighbouring state schools.

If they lose the status, it is estimated that more than 90,000 children would have to switch from private to state schools because their parents would be priced out.

Fees at the most prestigious institutions have reached up to £44,000 – but would hit nearly £53,000 a year. Parents would have to find more than £370,000 for one child’s seven-year stint at secondary school.

Experts said the scheme was ‘class war’ and a ‘tax on aspiration’ that would most hurt families applying for bursaries.

Sir Keir Starmer was facing a fierce backlash last night over a proposed ‘class-war’ tax of 20 per cent on private schools (pictured getting an honorary degree from the University of Reading)

The Mail on Sunday has established that since becoming an MP, Sir Keir has helped raise funds for £21,500-a-year Reigate Grammar by supporting the Henry Smith Club, named after Reigate’s founder, which assists with the fees of pupils from poorer families.

Sir Keir attended Reigate between 1974 and 1981 after passing the 11-plus, but for his last five years there it was a fee-paying school. His fees were paid by Surrey County Council. His wife, Victoria, was educated at a private school.

In January 2017, he spoke at an event for the Henry Smith Club at the private members’ East India Club in London, telling guests that the private school paved the way for his successful career.

Last night, Sean Davey, managing director of Reigate Grammar School International Ltd, who is responsible for overseeing a global community of former Reigate pupils and running projects overseas, described the scheme as a ‘huge error of judgment’.

He added: ‘If Labour come in and take the status away it would affect our work. We do a huge amount and raise millions for children from severely disadvantaged backgrounds. It will be far more costly on the state school system. They are packed already.

‘Basically there would be a huge impact on the state system and break down the relationship between the schools. What is being achieved by this? A lot of schools do a huge amount of work with social mobility.’

Tory MP Robin Walker, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: ‘It does look inconsistent to be fundraising for an independent school in a personal capacity then campaigning to drive them out of business in his public role.

‘It will make it far more remote for ordinary people and seem more elite. I suspect a lot of smaller independent schools would close. While Labour would justify this policy by saying more money would be returned to the public sector, my expectation is this would harm co-operation between state and independent schools. It is better to keep challenging independent schools to justify their charitable status than strip it away.’

The Labour leader was a pupil at Reigate Grammar School when it transitioned into a fee-paying institution (file image)

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘Labour’s tax on aspiration would not just have an impact on the hard-working families who choose independent schools for their children.

‘More children in the state sector would increase competition for the best state schools, which we know unfairly impacts the chances of already disadvantaged students.’

Labour has been accused of hypocrisy for its anti-selective education policies. Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry sent her son selective Dame Alice Owen’s School, MP Diane Abbott moved her son out of the state system and to private City of London School, and Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, a former Shadow Attorney General, sent her son to Dulwich College.

A Labour spokesman said: ‘Keir is determined that all children, irrespective of family income, have the chance to achieve their potential through high-quality education. The next Labour government will remove charitable status from private schools to fund our national excellence programme for all schools.’

But Crispin Blunt, Tory MP for Reigate, said: ‘It is a fantastically stupid policy.’

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