The Government should bring back the direct grant scheme rather than put VAT on school fees, Barnaby Lenon has suggested, MailOnline reports.
Mr Lenon was commenting as debate has erupted over the possibility of a future Labour government putting an end to independent schools’ tax breaks gained through charitable status.
The sector has warned that between 150 and 200 schools would face closure under the proposal, and private schools would be put out of the reach of both hardworking middle class families and reduce bursaries on offer for the less well-off.
Lenon, who is chair of the Independent Schools Council and also Dean of Education at the University of Buckingham, said Labour’s plan to add VAT to fees will only make them more expensive and the “preserve of the rich”.
Instead, he wants the Government to help private schools take poorer students, by giving part of the per-pupil amount given per child in state secondaries – currently around £5,600 a year – and leave schools and parents to top up the rest.
The plan was proposed by philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, who has lobbied the Department for Education to commit to the scheme, and has convinced 80 schools to sign up.
Direct grant schools were active between 1945 and 1976 and had a proportion of state-funded places for the most academically gifted while everyone else paid fees. They were abolished by Labour, with many becoming fully private.
Mr Lenon, who was on the direct grant scheme himself in the 1970s, said: “One way of dealing with independent schools is applying tax so they become the preserve of the rich.
“Another, very different way, is enabling independent schools to take more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Independent schools, many of which used to be direct grant schools, are keen to take more pupils from low income homes in the neighbourhood of the school. The cost to the taxpayer of the Lampl scheme would be zero.”
New figures from the Independent Schools Council suggest that private schools have boosted the value of bursary places for disadvantaged pupils by 30 per cent in a decade, newly released figures show.
The ISC says schools are giving away £480m this year in means-tested help with fees.
The Department for Education has declined to comment.