Brexit, austerity, economic woe: it’s time to make private schools pay

A fresh conversation about a very old divide is back on the political agenda. Robert Verkaik’s book Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain (note that linking verb) is currently making waves, with Andrew Marr confidently predicting that reform of private schools is “coming within a decade”. The Guardian reports

About time, too. Educational injustice has not faded over the past few decades so much as the political will to tackle it. The Labour party has offered no substantive critique of private education for well over 40 years, while the Tories have taken refuge in an ineffective policy of private school sponsorship of academies. Like the monarchy, it can sometimes feel as if private schools are bastions of privilege so deeply rooted in our national psyche that it verges on the unpatriotic even to challenge them.

In the spring of 2017 an independent councillor on Tory-controlled Taunton Deane council in Somerset proposed that four private schools donate 10% of their business rates relief, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, to the community at a time when the council was having to close libraries and cut back on teaching assistants.

Predictably, the private schools fought back, claiming that they contributed to “public benefit” in other ways, and the council more or less climbed down. But Taunton Deane’s representatives were on to something important, as Jeremy Corbyn had recognised in his spring promise of that year to put VAT on private school fees to fund free meals for all primary age children.

In short, it is time for a different kind of conversation – more honest, more determined – on the private/state divide. Not only does the resources gap between the two sectors now frequently verge on the obscene, but state education will never be considered first rate until all parents, including the pushiest, have a stake in a genuinely public system. If top-performing countries such as Finland, Japan and Canada can educate their children in a common system, why can’t we?

At the same time, a number of important reforms could form part of a plan for eventual integration. Such moves include the phasing out of charitable status and accompanying business rate relief – a move that the Scottish government announced late last year and was mooted under Ed Miliband’s leadership – a tax on school fees, and greater use of contextual admissions to universities.

Read the full article Brexit, austerity, economic woe: it’s time to make private schools pay

So you agree that a major change is needed? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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