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Elite private schools vent outrage at Labour’s ‘incredulous’ plan to abolish them

‘It will be an act of unprecedented vandalism,’ warns representative of country’s most expensive fee-paying schools

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 23 September 2019 19:18 BST
Diane Abbott responds to claims of hypocrisy as Labour plan to abolish private schools

Leaders of elite private schools have vented outrage over Labour’s plan to abolish them, branding the policy “incredulous” [sic] and an “act of unprecedented vandalism”.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party voted at their conference to integrate all private schools into the state sector if they win the next election.

The pledge sparked fury and disbelief among headteachers in the independent school sector.

Boris Johnson also called it a “pointless attack” on the education system, adding that it was based on a “long-buried socialist ideology”.

Headmaster Matthew Adshead, vice-chair of the Independent Schools Association (ISA), which represents 470 private schools, condemned Labour’s “far-left” policy as a “worrying proposition”.

Mr Adshead, head of the fee-paying Old Vicarage School in Derbyshire, said: “For me it seems quite incredulous [sic] that in 2019 I’m discussing whether my private land will be seized and then redistributed.”

“It doesn’t feel like I’m living in the UK any more,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Properties and funds held by private schools would be “redistributed democratically and fairly” across the country’s educational institutions as part of the reforms.

Private schools’ charitable status would also be scrapped and universities forced to limit their intake of privately educated students to just 7 per cent – the same proportion as in the wider population.

Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the most elite private schools, warned it would be “an act of unprecedented vandalism”.

He said: “Any government has a duty of care to all its citizens and this would harm children in independent and state schools, harm families and harm freedom.

“It could cripple an already cash-strapped education system and cost rather than win Labour votes.”

The plans were also criticised by a headteachers’ union leader who said the idea was “fraught with problems” and argued that it was probably “entirely unworkable”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We all want to make our country more equitable but the way to do this is to ensure that every child receives a great education and to improve career opportunities, not to wage an ideological war against private schools.”

He added that it would shift “billions of pounds of extra costs” on to the state education sector.

A snap poll from YouGov found that 50 per cent oppose the policy while just over a fifth (22 per cent) support it. The survey, of more than 3,000 adults, showed that 28 per cent are undecided.

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: “Private schools entrench inequality and Labour is right to seek to integrate private schools into the state system by removing their tax breaks and changing how universities select students.

“But private education cannot just be banned because that will breach the human rights which the Labour party rightly cherishes. Instead, Labour needs to make sure that private schools are not an attractive option for parents when compared to a brilliant system of state education.”

However, shadow chancellor John McDonnell argued scrapping private school fees could boost the economy.

He told BBC Radio 5Live: “What I think we’ll find is that for the large number of people who would be, at the moment, spending money on private education, that money actually will go into the wider economy and stimulate the economy.”

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Both the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and Mr Corbyn attended private schools.

On Sunday, Mr Corbyn tweeted: “Every child deserves to get the very best education, no matter their background. A Labour government will end the privilege that is entrenched by private schools.”

Mr Johnson has criticised Labour’s plans to abolish private schools as being both expensive and “pointless”.

The Eton-educated prime minister has said it would cost £7bn of taxpayers’ money to educate all the pupils who would no longer be educated privately.

He also accused Mr Corbyn of “unbelievable hypocrisy” over the proposal, highlighting that the Labour leader, as well children of several Labour cabinet ministers, attended a private school.

“It’s extraordinary that they’ve excavated this from the crypt of what I thought to be long buried socialist ideology,” Mr Johnson said.

Asked if he thinks he would be PM if he had not been privately educated, Mr Johnson replied: “I’ve been very fortunate in my life in all sorts of ways and I certainly owe a lot to my education.”

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