VAT on school fees has raised its head well above the parapet with the Labour Party seeking to use an opposition day tomorrow (Wednesday) to set up a new Commons select committee to look specifically at the issue
Our Prime Minister may have inadvertently pushed the issue further up Labour’s agenda when he announced a commitment to extending maths tuition for pupils throughout their schooling. The announcement has inevitably raised questions about how the additional teachers for maths would be funded — there is no disputing that more teachers would be needed.
Labour’s default position seems always to turn on the independent sector with protestations that those who attend are unfairly advantaged and privileged beyond all others and must be punished accordingly. That may sound rather clichéd and trite but so is the attitude of the Labour Party on this issue.
On the one hand, I am delighted at the prospect of a Committee to explore the impact of VAT on school fees. One hopes that it would force the Labour Party to acknowledge the incredible contribution the independent sector makes to our education system by alleviating the pressure on state schools and providing additional support where possible (6,963 partnerships identified in the last ISC census and I suspect the reality is even higher).
“That may sound rather clichéd and trite but so is the attitude of the Labour Party on this issue.”
However, I fear the sabre rattling will continue. Labour are convinced that this will be a vote-winner, though I am not so sure. As a headmaster, I see first-hand the extraordinary sacrifices made by so many of our families to send their children to our school.
We look to make access to the school more affordable by offering bursaries to a number of our pupils so that we actually receive less than a state school would for that pupil. There are of course families who could pay the VAT on school fees but not the number that the Labour party believes.
Education to these families is the priority, ahead of nice cars, holidays and larger homes and these are the families who will be affected. The impact of VAT on school fees would simply mean more families having to send their children to a state school which will mean less VAT for the government and more expense with additional children in the state sector. It really isn’t that difficult to get one’s head around.
“Labour are convinced that this will be a vote-winner, though I am not so sure.”
It is of course worth acknowledging that it is not as simple as a 20 per cent increase on school fees. Most independent schools are currently unable to reclaim VAT and this would obviously become available to them if legislation were passed imposing VAT on fees. However the increase would still be significant — a 16 per cent increase on the invoiced fees would be more likely. But I doubt any school would actually be able to impose this and would have to find ways of keeping it to 10 per cent (which would still be too much for the majority, not the minority).
Julie Robinson, CEO of the Independent Schools Council, and Oxford Economics have also spelled out the economic contribution made by the independent sector to the state in very comprehensive reports that I would hope Labour politicians would have read, but I suspect the truth of these is too hard for them to stomach.
“Labour’s arguments are as compelling as Boris Johnson’s NHS Brexit bus campaign.”
The outcome of a successful Labour campaign would ultimately mean less money available to the state for education and probably higher taxes to try and compensate for the shortfall, whilst also impacting seriously upon our children’s education.
The simple economics of Labour’s proposal is flawed and one has to question their ability when it comes to fiscal policy. Labour’s arguments are as compelling as Boris Johnson’s bus campaign for Brexit where he promised £350 million a week to the NHS; perhaps our cynicism of that campaign should now be passed across to Labour’s attack on the independent sector.
Sadly, there are no winners here if Labour’s campaign is successful.