Private school parents warned state places are scarce

There are fears of a pupil exodus from private to state schools
There are fears of a pupil exodus from private to state schools - PA/Alamy

Private school parents looking to escape Labour’s VAT raid have been warned there are very few state school places available.

One mother who contacted her local council about the possibility of moving her child from private to state education ahead of Sir Keir Starmer’s proposed 20 per cent hike in fees was told that secondary schools are so oversubscribed that students are on a waiting list and if “any” places become available they will be “extremely limited”.

The message from officials at Newcastle city council is echoed across the country, with at least eight authorities warning that there are few to no places available and one stating that there is “no guarantee” of an immediate space.

It comes amid fears of a pupil exodus from private to state schools after Sir Keir promised that he would initiate the tax raid on “day one” of a Labour government.

It has been estimated that up to a quarter of students will be removed from private schools if the policy goes ahead and headteachers say some parents have already started pulling their children out or cancelling places at fee-paying schools.

Now, The Telegraph can reveal that parents wishing to escape the increase in fees may struggle to get a place for their children in any local state schools, which have already allocated places for September.

Councils that have issued warnings about availability for so-called “in-year” transfers include Cambridgeshire, which says on its website it has “no available spaces in secondary schools in the Fenland area”, and Oxfordshire, which lists several areas that have “very few or no” places.

Wokingham borough council has told parents that “all schools” are “heavily oversubscribed” and “there is no guarantee of an immediate school place”.

According to the Leeds city council website, there are no places at all for year 10 students and for year 9s only one academy has a handful of spaces.

Vale of Glamorgan and Solihull both warn that a child may not be able to leave their current school, with the Welsh council saying pupils should not be taken out of a school until a new place is confirmed.

When a parent wrote to Bromley council concerned about Labour’s policy, they were told that the “majority” of schools in the area are oversubscribed, and the application would go on a waiting list.

An admissions officer in Newcastle told the concerned mother that the only way students have succeeded in getting places previously “is by the parents winning an appeal after their application was refused”.

Newcastle is one of a number of councils that advises against moving secondary schools on the basis that it could “adversely affect your child’s education”.

Others state that it can be “disruptive”, and they do not recommend it at all while a child is preparing for GCSEs.

Young people ‘collateral damage’

Education Not Taxation, a grassroots campaign group that has compiled the warnings, said that parents are now worried that children may be left without a school to attend in September.

Loveena Tandon, a spokesperson for the campaign group, said that the plans were “not only disruptive” but “unfair” and leave young people as “collateral damage”.

A number of analyses have said that the plans will not raise the £1.7 billion Labour has promised, Ms Tandon pointed out.

The group is calling for a consultation on the plans if Labour wins the election, amid growing pressure on the party to re-think the pledge.

When challenged on the policy at his first major speech of the general election campaign on Monday, Sir Keir said that he understood and respected that “many parents work hard and save hard to be able to send their children to private schools” but there were “difficult choices to be made”.

The comments were an apparent softening on the positions taken the day before by Rachel Reeve, shadow chancellor, who said that she was “sure that private schools can make efficiencies”.

‘Cannot plan based on headlines’

Julie Robinson, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said that Labour had not provided any detail or timeline for the policy and “schools and parents alike cannot adequately plan based on headlines”.

She added: “We are concerned about the implications for state schools if an unprecedented tax on education is rushed through, particularly in the areas where there are no in-year spaces.”

Ms Robinson also called for the 100,000 students with special educational needs currently in private schools to be protected from the taxes and for the Labour to do a “full impact assessment… before rushing into any policy implementation”.

There have been warnings about a growing shortage of school spaces across the country for a number of years.

Councils, which have a duty to provide children with a full-time education, have no powers to open new schools or force local academies to expand, the Local Government Association said, as it called for authorities to be given more powers to direct schools to accept children.

A Labour spokesman said: “The next Labour government will break down the barriers to opportunity by investing in our state schools and recruiting over 6,500 new teachers and putting mental health counselling in every secondary school through ending the tax breaks for private schools.

“Independent schools have raised fees above inflation for well over a decade and do not have to pass Labour’s proposed change onto parents.”