Private schools will lose nearly half their pupils under Labour, poll finds

Keir Starmer in conversation in a cafe
Keir Starmer, pictured campaigning on Monday, has pledged to introduce VAT for private schools - Labour Party

Almost half of private school pupils could be driven out by Sir Keir Starmer’s tax raid, according to a report.

A survey of parents with children at private schools suggests around 224,000 pupils could leave as a result of the plans, double the previous estimate.

The report, by the education consultancy Baines Cutler, states that the figures “seriously undermine Labour’s argument that the sector would go through an imposition of VAT on school fees ‘largely unscathed’.”

Sir Keir has said he will push ahead with the plan to apply 20 per cent VAT to private school fees “straight away” if Labour wins power on July 4.

The policy has sparked fears of a pupil exodus from private to state schools, with headteachers warning some parents have already started pulling their children out or cancelling places at fee-paying schools.

Very few state school places

The Telegraph has also revealed that private school parents looking to escape Labour’s VAT raid have been told by councils that there are very few state school places available.

The new poll of 30,000 parents of children at independent schools, conducted over the past two years, suggests previous estimates of how many pupils will be withdrawn from private schools were too low.

A previous report by Baines Cutler estimated that removing the VAT exemption would result in a “drop-off” of around 17.1 per cent in the first five years, or 10.7 per cent immediately.

But the new poll suggests 42 per cent of around 500,000 pupils would be forced to leave the private sector within the next five years, with 14 per cent leaving immediately.

An additional 16 per cent said they would find paying the higher fees difficult, including 6 per cent who would need financial support from the school.

‘Labour hasn’t changed’

Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary, told the Daily Mail: “This is just more proof that Keir Starmer’s party hasn’t changed.

“This is the same old Labour Party, playing party politics at the expense of children’s education. Their tax hike will overwhelm our state schools, driving tens of thousands of pupils into the state sector – potentially costing taxpayers £1.6 billion.

“The choice is clear: stick with the clear plan that is working, taking bold action to drive up school standards with Rishi Sunak. Or go back to square one with Keir Starmer and the politics of envy.”

‘Difficult choices’

Sir Keir insisted on Monday that he respects parents who work hard to send their children to private school.

Following his first major speech of the election campaign, he said: “I completely understand that many parents work hard and save hard to be able to send their children to private schools. I know that, I respect that and I understand that. But there are difficult choices to be made.

“At the moment we don’t have enough basic teachers in our state secondary schools... I’ve got to answer the question if I’m going to have 6,500 extra teachers in our state secondary schools, how am I going to pay for it?

“So the tax break for private schools has to go and that will be used directly to fund those places in our state secondary schools.”