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'It's a tax on parents': Headteacher urges Keir Starmer to rethink private school VAT plans

12 June 2024, 09:30

Paul Norton is principal of Kings Monkton
Paul Norton is principal of Kings Monkton. Picture: Kings Monkton

By Bronwen Weatherby

A headteacher has written to Keir Starmer urging him to rethink his plans to charge VAT on private school fees.

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Labour has said it will remove the tax exemption from independent schools as part of its general election pledge, claiming the £1.5 billion generated by the policy will go towards improving the country’s state education system.

In an open letter to the party’s leader, Principal Paul Norton of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff called it a “tax on parents” and said it could result in the school’s closure.

Mr Norton said: “This would be detrimental to our whole community – our pupils and parents, colleagues in the state sector, and the wider school community.

“Kings Monkton School is a specialist mainstream school for children aged 3-18. We are a small, family run school that specialises in supporting children with Additional Learning Needs such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia.

Read more: 'VAT on our school puts us at considerable risk of closure': Private school principal's letter to Labour's Sir Keir Starmer

Read more: Labour refuses to rule out introducing VAT on private school fees mid-academic year

Tim Nicholls, a concerned parent
Tim Nicholls, a concerned parent. Picture: LBC

“Our children are not only funded privately by our parents, but we also receive Local Authority funded children from Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Caerphilly, Newport, Torfaen and Bridgend.

“VAT would inevitably make our education unaffordable for some parents, and risk them having to leave the school. This would cause serious disruption for the education of those children involved, and this burden would fall on the parents who work the hardest to support their choice of school.

“It would be especially challenging for pupils who have failed to flourish in the state sector and have come to our specialist provision at great cost and sacrifice to their families.

“In turn, this will put pressure on local state provision. We share a commitment to a well-funded state sector, a vision which would be harder to achieve if more funding were required to support pupils who have moved into state schools.”

It comes amid a growing row within the Labour party over the policy.

Larysa Martseva, another parent
Larysa Martseva, another parent. Picture: LBC

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry admitted on Sunday that it could lead in the short-term to larger classes in state schools.

Sir Keir told journalists the candidate for Islington South and Finsbury was wrong in her assessment, adding: “We have had the analysis by the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) on this which says that there will be a negligible impact.”

On Monday, the shadow education Bridget Phillipson appeared on LBC and refused to rule out introducing changes to VAT midway through a school term.

According to Kings Monkton’s own figures, the total Labour would be able to claim per year in VAT from the school if they went through with the move is £670,000.

Lynne Edmunds and daughter Rhiannon
Lynne Edmunds and daughter Rhiannon. Picture: LBC

Mr Norton claimed the cost of placing his 290 pupils back into the state sector if the school closed would be £1.9 billion.

Despite charging parents fees of between £10-15,000 per year, Mr Norton said many receive scholarships or have their tuition paid in full.

And he said the school made a loss last year due to freezing fees despite rising running costs to help parents with the cost-of-living crisis.

He said placing VAT on his school would increase what families have to pay per year by £3,000 - a cost the school would be unable to absorb.

A number of the school’s parents told LBC they now feared no longer being able to afford the fees.

Dr Leshmi Rajan
Dr Leshmi Rajan, another parent. Picture: LBC

Tim Nicholls, an NHS nurse, said his autistic daughter joined the school because her needs were not being met at her local comprehensive school causing her mental health to suffer.

“My income is limited so for my daughter to come here - we’ve seen her thrive. The prospect as a family of potentially deciding to move her from the school because of such a huge thing is terrifying really,” Mr Nicholls said.

“These smaller independent schools are very much fitting a need because the state provision just wasn’t there and it meant she barely attended school.”

Lynne Edmunds whose grandson also has ALN said: “Since he’s been in this school his confidence has gone through the roof, he’s an entirely different child.

“I’ve been a Labour voter all my life and I’m so disappointed in this, it’s wrong. I understand the state schools need funding but I’d really rather they didn’t take it out on people like us who are sending our children to a school to help them.”

Dr Leshmi Rajan, whose son began attending after his state school closed, said she would be one of those who could no longer afford it.

Starmer rejects Thornberry suggestion private school fees VAT may swell classes

“I’m a doctor in the NHS so you’d think I’d be able to afford it but I’m also a single mum, and I cannot work in the afternoons because I have to pick my son up from school.

“I understand what Labour are doing but can they guarantee that the money will all go to state schools and actually improve the provision? Schools need a lot more than 20 per cent and I just can’t see them getting the resources they need from what Labour have set out.”

Larysa Martseva, whose family fled Ukraine from the Russian invasion earlier this year, told LBC her son suffered from PTSD and ALN and she fears Labour’s policy will prevent independent schools from helping refugees with complex needs in future.

Phillipson on VAT on school-fees coming mid-year

By ending private school tax breaks, Labour says it plans to address a fundamental unfairness while generating additional funding that can be invested back into the state education sector.

Labour has said it will use the money to pay for 6,500 more teachers.

It has also said a total of £140 million of the cash would go to creating 3,334 classrooms in existing primary schools will be converted to accommodate 100,000 extra childcare places.

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