‘Margaret Thatcher mining crisis’ will occur if Labour abolishes private schools, head of £36,000-a-year school says

Peter Green, headmaster of Rugby School, warns against ‘attack on excellence’ 

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 06 October 2019 19:48 BST
Peter Green, head of Rugby School, has hit back at Labour’s plans to abolish private schools
Peter Green, head of Rugby School, has hit back at Labour’s plans to abolish private schools

A “Margaret Thatcher mining crisis” will take hold across the country if Labour pushes ahead with plans to abolish private schools, the headmaster of £36,000-a-year Rugby School has said.

Peter Green, head of one of the oldest private schools in the country, warned the proposals would “decimate” communities as thousands of staff in the independent sector would lose their jobs.

His parallel with the divisive political events of the 1980s – which prompted widespread strikes and led to mass unemployment – has been described as offensive and “grotesque”.

Mr Green was speaking after delegates at the Labour Party conference voted in favour of integrating all private schools into the state sector if they win the next general election.

Headteachers in the independent school sector are now reaching out to MPs, parents in local communities, state school teachers and union leaders to rally support for fee-paying schools.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Green warned that hundreds of support staff at Rugby School would become unemployed if the school was forced to shut down.

He said: “We would have a Margaret Thatcher mining crisis in so many areas of the UK if they decided to get rid of us. It would decimate communities and you would have the reverse multiplier.”

Shutting the elite boarding school, which was founded in 1567, would “ruin” Rugby town, he added.

Rugby town will lose its biggest employer which provides more than £30m directly to the town every year. We employ over 600 support staff – that is not including the teachers,” Mr Green said.

He added: “What about the restaurants which survive because of us with our parents coming, our hotels which are in the local area, what about our local building firms that we have used for new buildings?”

The head of the prestigious school said an “attack on excellence” was not the solution. Instead, he advocated independent schools should continue their partnership work with state schools.

Under the reforms being proposed by Jeremy Corbyn’s party, properties and funds held by private schools would be “redistributed democratically and fairly” across the country’s educational institutions.

Speaking at a conference in London this week, headteachers warned that it was unlikely that staff working in private schools would all move over to the state sector if the plans go ahead.

Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, which represents more than 1,300 private schools in the UK, is calling on pupils, parents and alumni to oppose the plans.

He said: “Many independent schools are in small towns, even villages, and jobs will be lost, unemployment will rise and the local community will be greatly diminished.

“In these places, a great deal of community life focuses on the school and the school’s building and the events that are put on in those schools, and all that will be gone.”

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Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: “This looks like scaremongering. The Labour Party is talking about gradually shrinking the private school sector and integrating schools into the state system in a managed way. Successful independent schools won’t be forced to close overnight.”

He added: “It is wildly over the top to compare the gradual integration of the independent and state school sectors with the forced closure of the UK mining industry. Drawing this parallel is likely to cause great offence in many in ex-colliery communities.”

Holly Rigby, a state school teacher and co-founder of the Labour Against Private Schools campaign group, noted that Rugby School’s alumni includes Conservative politicians “who crushed the miners’ struggle”.

She said: “To suggest that Rugby’s attempts to hoard its privilege and power is similar to the miners’ strike is grotesque.

“Rugby educates the elite political class in this country, and there is no surprise they are trying to fight to defend their privilege whilst talented young people in state schools like mine are left behind.”

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