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Labour picks wrong ideological battle with private school tax raid

<span>Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA</span>
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Labour will alienate swathes of middle-class families with its insistence on imposing VAT on private school fees (Rishi Sunak attacks Labour plan for VAT on private school fees, 28 September). First, not all of us who choose to send our children to independent schools are rolling in the stuff. Some of us make sacrifices in other parts of our lives in order to educate our children as we choose, but that is entirely our choice and our business.

Second, independent schools pay teachers a salary too. Are you robbing Peter to pay Paul if private schools are made to choose between continuing to pay a competitive salary for their staff (who face the same inflationary pressures that are driving their state sector colleagues on to the picket line) and tempering their fees to prevent those families who couldn’t afford the rise taking their children out of school?

Third, why are the parents who opt out of requiring the state to pay for their children’s education, when the state is manifestly struggling to provide enough teachers and resources for the students they have, now being asked to subsidise, via taxes, the education of the majority of children who are supposed to be educated by the state using the taxes that all of us already pay? The logical extension of this thinking is to ask those who turn to private medical care to pay VAT on that too, so that their care can subsidise a flailing NHS. It’s perverse. Worse, it’s the wrong ideological battle.
Dr Priyanjali Malik
London

• Labour’s U-turn on the removal of private schools’ charitable status is another blow to the morale of struggling state school teachers. Its attempt to justify this, by saying that imposing VAT on private schools will itself be enough to increase the number of teachers, suggests it doesn’t understand one of the main reasons for resignations among teachers in state schools.

After 13 years of Tory austerity, when yet another budget cut arrives and class sizes are at or above the 30-pupil maximum that Labour bequeathed to the coalition, the only option for schools is to get rid of teaching assistants, even though they are vital for pupils with special needs. It is important for Labour to publicise that these cuts also affect the education of all pupils, as teachers have to provide the help previously delivered by the assistants.

Labour should stick to its original policy of removing the charitable status of private schools as well as imposing VAT on school fees. The party fears the “class war” headlines of the rightwing press. But these could be countered by publicising the extent to which the ending of charitable status and the return of VAT could reverse the effects of 13 years of Tory austerity, and restore the number of teaching assistants and pupil numbers to the level Labour had achieved in 2010.
Keith Barnham
Emeritus professor, Imperial College London

• Who would be a teacher in Labour’s brave new world of education? It seems to believe that taxing independent schools is an easy win with voters because it combines a new revenue stream with ensuring that fewer pupils are privately educated. Glib assurances are given about how easily the maintained sector will accommodate children whose parents will no longer be able to afford the fees.

But Labour ignores the reality of overcrowded classrooms, overstretched budgets, crumbling buildings and teacher shortages. Larger classes mean bigger workloads and quicker burnout as those at the sharp end struggle to cope.
Yvonne Williams
Ryde, Isle of Wight

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