Private schools must ‘ensure costs are kept affordable for parents’, Starmer tells headteacher amid plans for tax raid

25 June 2024, 08:36

Sir Keir Starmer has told a headteacher that her private school should ‘work to ensure costs are kept affordable for parents’.
Sir Keir Starmer has told a headteacher that her private school should ‘work to ensure costs are kept affordable for parents’. Picture: Alamy

By Charlotte Frawley

Sir Keir Starmer has told a headteacher that her private school should ‘work to ensure costs are kept affordable for parents’ following a plea over Labour’s pledge to levy VAT on fees.

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The Labour leader’s response, set out in a letter to Moon Hall School in Reigate, comes after Sir Keir faced questions on his party’s private school plans as he spoke exclusively to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast last week.

During the phone-in, Sir Keir was taken to task by Michelle Catterson, head of Moon Hall, which caters for dyslexic children.

She accused him of "not caring" about youngsters with special needs, warning that many of her pupils without Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs) would be forced into the state sector.

Labour has promised that children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) would be exempt from the tax hike.

But just 7,600 special needs pupils have an EHCP, while 103,000 do not, according to research by the Independent Schools Council (ISC)

In response to the question from Michelle, Sir Keir replied: "Well, Michelle, we do care. I want every single child, whether they go to private or state school, to have the same opportunities. It really matters to me."

The Labour leader later promised to respond to a letter the headteacher had sent him.

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

Read more: ‘No magic wand’ to recruit more teachers as Starmer insists removing ‘tax breaks’ for private schools is ‘tough choice’

Nick Ferrari questions Keir Starmer on how Labour will pay for teachers in schools with SEND pupils

In that letter, seen by LBC, Sir Keir reiterated Labour’s policy on private schools and suggested Ms Catterson’s school should be able to absorb the additional VAT cost on fees.

"There does not need to be any additional cost to any parents. We know you will work to ensure costs are kept affordable for parents who do not have an EHCP for their child, as the VAT and business rates do not need to be passed on to parents."

The letter intensifies the row over the impact of Labour’s VAT plans on private schools that cater for pupils with special educational needs (SEND) and calls are growing on the party to introduce a blanket VAT exemption for all independent special schools.

But speaking to Sunday with Lewis Goodall, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson rejected those calls.

"It is not as simple or straightforward as you say," she told LBC.

Labour has pledged to remove private schools’ exemption of paying 20% VAT if it wins the general election and hopes to raise about £1.5bn a year to increase investment into state schools.

Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly said he respects the decision of parents to send their children to private schools, but said 6,500 more teachers are needed in state schools.

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