Independent school fees becoming major political football

  • 15th February 2024

The focus on the Labour party’s taxation plans for the independent school sector should it win is increasing as the general election looms closer.

As The i Paper has reported, the latest skirmish in the battle emerged on Monday as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak answered questions posed by audience members on GB News. Sunak said many parents sending their children to private schools were not rich but people who “work hard to aspire for a better life for them and their family”.

The assistant headteacher of a Teesside private school in the audience said schools like his are “not the Etons of this world”, adding that “many of our families are middle-income families that make lifestyle compromises to be able to invest in their children’s education”.

“Any rise in fees would likely be difficult for them to manage meaning their children would likely end up back in a swamped state sector.”

Sunak responded: “The people you’re talking about are people like my parents. My parents came here without a huge amount with my grandparents, but they worked really hard to give their kids a better life.

“They thought education was the best way to do that. They put everything into making sure my brother and sister and I got a great education. We got help along the way with scholarships and things as well.

“I get attacked by Keir Starmer for where I went to school. I said to him once: ‘you’re not really attacking me you’re attacking my parents, and you’re attacking everybody like them that works hard to aspire for a better life for them and their family’.”

The iNews consulted the Private Education Policy Forum (PEPF) in a mission to ‘fact check’ the assertions being made in that broadcast, although this organisation would appear to harbour a heavy bias against any form of independent schooling, with all its board members seemingly from the left of the political spectrum including Melissa Benn, daughter of the late Tony Benn, Labour’s left-wing icon and Francis Green who has co-written a book accusing independent schools of fostering educational apartheid.

PEPF stated that the UK average income is £35,000 and parents earning this would find it “extremely difficult if not impossible” to send even child to most private schools – and even those earning much more “would struggle to pay the average private school fee given the cost of living crisis”.

The think tank continued: “Many people may need inherited family wealth in order to pay for private school, instead of being able to rely on a fairly good, middle-income salary. So, the idea that it’s based on meritocratic hard work really is misleading.

“The data shows it’s overwhelmingly parents in the top 10% earning bracket who send their kids to private schools. The idea that all sections of society can access these schools if they work hard enough is simply not borne out by the evidence.”

Keep Updated

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