Surrey parents will face scramble for state school places if Labour adds VAT to school fees

Sir Keir Starmer - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Sir Keir Starmer - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Parents in Surrey would face a scramble for the best state school places if Labour’s VAT on private school fees were to be introduced, new research shows.

Researchers have analysed data from already oversubscribed and popular state schools, which they say would be inundated with new applications if independent schools were to lose their charitable status perks.

The Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) analysis suggests that if VAT on fees is introduced, the expected switch of about 25 per cent of independent school pupils to the state sector would make it harder for parents to get their first choice state school, particularly in the South East, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

Sir Keir Starmer plans to end the financial benefits private schools derive from their charitable status. The move would result in the schools losing both their corporation tax exemption and their 20 per cent VAT exemption - worth £1.7 billion - as well as having to pay £104 million in business rates.

The ISC, a not for profit lobby group representing more than 1,300 private schools in the UK, analysed 10 local authorities covering at least 19 Labour constituencies to try to see how the influx of private pupils to the state sector would affect admissions over five years.

The researchers claim it could lead to a 32 per cent fall in first place state school offers in Surrey, meaning just over half of parents would get the school they picked. In that county, “the best state schools would also go from approximately 850 oversubscribed pupils to 6,800,” where oversubscribed means a school has enrolled more pupils than its reported number of available places.

In Hertfordshire, the number of oversubscribed pupils would rise from 570 to 4,130 over the five years.

Oxfordshire would see a total of 3,470 oversubscribed pupils compared to the current 435. In Kent, the current 1,600 would rise to 4,160 oversubscribed pupils. Cambridgeshire would end up with 1,985 oversubscribed pupils, compared to 300 today. Essex would see the current 864 oversubscriptions increase to 2,300; Croydon would increase to 1,550 from 410; Manchester would experience 350 oversubscribers rising to 1,340; Birmingham’s current 483 pupils who are oversubscribed could increase to 1,330.

It emerged last week that secondary schools in England are more oversubscribed than at any time in the past decade. Almost a quarter of state secondaries were over capacity last year.

Meanwhile in Bristol, there could be a 20 per cent fall in first place offers, with the number of oversubscribed pupils more than doubling from 807 to 1,962.

Julie Robinson, the ISC’s chief executive, said: “Labour’s tax on parents would have unintended consequences for the state sector.

“The pressure of pupil movement from independent to state schools would damage social mobility and lead to fewer disadvantaged pupils having the option to attend their preferred school.

“We would welcome the opportunity to talk to the Labour Party about ways to build on the work already being done by independent schools to improve education for all students.”