In a major policy shift, a motion approved by delegates at the gathering in Brighton said a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would “challenge the elite privilege of private schools” and claimed that “the ongoing existence of private schools is incompatible with Labour’s pledge to promote social justice”.
It said the party would include in its next manifesto “a commitment to integrate all private schools into the state sector”.
This would include scrapping independent schools’ charitable status and “all other public subsidies and tax privileges”.
Controversially, the party will also force universities to ensure that only 7 per cent of students they admit went to private schools – the same proportion as in the general population.
And private schools’ property, land and other assets will be seized and “redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.
However, the move is likely to force Labour to raise funds elsewhere to cover the costs of the influx of private school pupils into the state sector.
One shadow cabinet minister told The Independent that the policy would require raising additional investment.
In a clear hint that taxes may have to rise, the shadow minister said the measure would only be beneficial if the government could rake in some of the money better-off people would have spent on educating their children.
“Often the reason people turn to independent schools is because they want children to have more support,” the shadow minister added. “If the state system did not get some of those resources, then getting rid of those schools would not help. We want to lift the overall standard, not bring everyone down to the same level.”
The motion was passed hours after Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, told the conference hall that a Labour government would ask the Social Mobility Commission, which it would rebrand the Social Justice Commission, to “work on making the whole education system fairer through the integration of private schools”.
She said: “John McDonnell and I will set out the further steps a Labour government would take. But I can say today, that our very first Budget will immediately close the tax loopholes used by elite private schools, and use that money to improve the lives of all children.”
The news was welcomed by anti-private school campaigners.
Holly Rigby, from the Abolish Eton campaign, said: “We are delighted that Labour has committed to integrating all private schools into the state sector and that it will feature in the next manifesto.”
She added: “We will dismantle systems of privilege and inequality and build a society that works for the millions and not the millionaires.”
But the Independent Schools Council (ISC) warned Labour that the policy would be a “vote loser”.
Citing a ComRes survey for the organisation, Barnaby Lenon, chair of the ISC chair and a former headmaster of Harrow, said: “t’s not something that people are thinking is going to be especially helpful. The main thing they want to do is improve state schools, which is what we all want.
“If you look at the proportions that are less likely to vote for a party abolishing independent schools or are neutral, the figure ranges between 62 and 77 per cent across all regions and it ranges from 64 to 75 per cent across all age groups. So there is no way that this appears to be a vote winner.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies