Independent school entries dropping amid labour tax fears

  • 13th May 2024

Enrolments at independent schools this academic year have fallen by 2.7%, the largest annual drop since the ISC began collecting data on new starters in 2011.

Data from the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) census, to be published next week, shows a 0.1% decrease in the overall numbers of pupils attending independent school, the first fall since 2013, apart from during the pandemic.

The ISC’s chief executive Julie Robinson said many new parents have been asking about VAT, with headteachers reporting concerns. Speaking to The Times, she said: “Parents are under pressure from the cost of living and recovering from the impact of Covid… We’re starting to see already the impact of VAT looming on the horizon.

“Some schools are already surveying parents to ensure they have the right priorities in cuts, if it comes to it. They’re preparing for the worst.”

Susan Hannam, head of Lichfield Cathedral School, commented: “I’m really concerned VAT will scare off some parents from embracing this extraordinary and life-changing experience for their children.”

Speaking on LBC, Robinson said the threat of VAT on fees “is absolutely one of the main factors” contributing to the decline in pupil numbers at independent schools, with both current and prospective parents worried about the impact of Labour’s tax proposals.

Robinson and Christine Cunniffe, principal of LVS Ascot, shared their concerns about the policy in an interview on TalkTV. Cunniffe warned of the impact of VAT on parents who are already making financial sacrifices, saying: “This is such a big hike, I can’t see how it’s going to work.” Robinson added: “The aim of this policy is to raise funds for the state sector, but since we’re already seeing pupils moving into the state sector from the independent sector, it looks like that gamble might not pay off.”

Cunniffe also appeared on Times Radio where she questioned the rationale behind Labour’s tax plans, saying: “Every headteacher wants every child to have the best possible education they can, but you can’t just throw money at a problem.”

Keep Updated

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive the latest news.