• The End of Private Schools?

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    30 September 2019

    At the Labour Party Conference one policy really stood out – their plan to end fee-paying education in England. It would be done in phases, with private schools losing charitable status and tax emptions, and then seeing their facilities and ultimately their pupils being ‘integrated’ into the state sector. I understand where the policy comes from – a concern that a child whose parents can ‘buy’ them a ‘better’ education has an advantage over a child whose parents cannot afford to do so – but I think the policy is completely unworkable.

    The cost: Around 600,000 pupils in England are being educated in private schools (I refer to England rather than the UK as education is a devolved issue). To give this some context, the number of pupils being educated in Wales and Northern Ireland put together is 800,000 so we are talking about a massive influx into the state system. The cost of educating these pupils would be around £3.6billion a year and that figure excludes the capital investment of building hundreds of new schools, expanding our existing ones or purchasing the buildings and facilities from private schools. These substantial sums of money, both initially and going forward would require funds to be diverted from other public services or, if funding came from within the existing education budget, would reduce the amount of money going to our existing state schools. £3.6billion a year would be better spent improving our state schools – you could increase the number of teachers by a fifth, increase funding for pupils with Special Educational Needs by more than 50% or invest in significant capital projects to improve school buildings.

    The practicality: What is to stop parents who are currently paying for a private education for their child from hiring private tutors? With one-to-one tuition these pupils would have huge advantages over their peers, or would this be banned as well?

    The precedent: If private schools are targeted in this way, what about private pre-schools? And if all children are required to be state-educated, would home-schooling be prohibited?

    Does it really make sense to break up schools that are providing hundreds of thousands of children with an excellent education. Bursaries for private schools also offer the brightest pupils regardless of their background. You could also query whether private is indeed ‘better’ or whether it is just different. There are three state secondary schools and more than 40 state primary schools in Central Devon and I have visited just about all of them, some on several occasions. Not once have I left a school feeling that they were somehow holding their pupils back. I see hard-working headteachers and teachers in the state system giving a generation of children an excellent, well-rounded, inclusive state education. Let’s not hold them back by taking on the huge logistical and financial burden of abolishing the private sector and charities from the schooling of our children.

    For more from Mel follow him on twitter @MelJStride or visit