Labour playing ‘politics of envy’ over school tax raids, says Gillian Keegan

Gillian Keegan says Labour does not have a plan for education
Gillian Keegan says Labour does not have a plan for education - Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Labour’s tax raid on private schools is the “politics of envy ahead of evidence”, the Education Secretary has said after a school announced it will close in the summer.

Families with children at Alton School in Hampshire, which announced the closure last week, have blamed the Labour Party’s tax policies for forcing parents to remove their children and place them in the state sector.

The school said in a statement on its website that “adverse political and economic factors” had drained pupil numbers, leaving it “unviable” to run.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary said of The Telegraph’s report on Alton School: “This is why you don’t put politics of envy ahead of evidence”.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, she claimed that Labour’s plans would mean “slashing special education needs provision”, “increasing pressure on state schools” and “potentially costing taxpayers up to £1.6 billion”.

Classroom doors at the £18,000-a-year Catholic school, which caters for 370 pupils, will close for the final time at the end of the academic year.

The school has suffered from falling pupil numbers in recent years, but the likelihood of a Labour victory in the general election is said to have exacerbated the issue, with parents describing it as the “final nail in the coffin”.

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to roll out the planned tax raid “straight away” if Labour were to win the next general election.

Asked last week whether the plan would be implemented on “day one” of being in power, Sir Keir told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “As soon as it can be done. Obviously, there will have to be financial statements etc.

“It is a question of the timetable in Parliament, but these first steps are intended to be done straight away.”

The VAT raid is one of Sir Keir’s longest-standing policy pledges and is one of the starkest dividing lines between Labour and the Tories.

Alton School, in Hampshire, announced it will close in the summer
Alton School, in Hampshire, announced it will close in the summer

Labour has claimed that the policy would generate £1.7 billion to spend on state education, which the party has said would be used on hiring 6,500 more teachers, among other policies.

However, it is feared that the policy could cause a significant increase in demand for state school places, as a result of an exodus of families from the independent school sector because of a rise in fees.

Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, warned that the raid would force private schools to shut, with many smaller institutions already on a “knife edge”.

Headteachers have told The Telegraph that parents were already cancelling places for September following news of the July election, with others scrambling to pay fees in advance to avoid the tax.

The Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank, suggested in a report in March that the plan was based on flawed assumptions and could ultimately cost the taxpayer £1.6 billion a year.

Labour has previously said that independent schools do not have to pass on the change in fees to parents.

Labour has been contacted for comment.