Threat to take tax breaks from private schools for failing to help state schools is dropped, in government U-turn

Labour warns there will now be 'no meaningful action to get value for the subsidies that benefit private schools'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 11 May 2018 18:03 BST
Independent schools will merely be 'expected' to support state schools - with no sanction if they refuse
Independent schools will merely be 'expected' to support state schools - with no sanction if they refuse (Getty Images)

A threat to strip lucrative tax breaks from private schools that fail to help state schools has been dropped, in another government U-turn.

Independent schools will merely be “expected” to provide teaching and mentoring support, and allow state schools to use their facilities - with no sanction if they refuse.

Labour seized on the rethink to warn there would now be “no meaningful action to get value for the subsidies that benefit private schools”.

The NEU teaching union also criticised plans for a “dedicated unit” to “strengthen partnerships” between independent and state schools – arguing there was no evidence it would work.

“The funding should be diverted instead to state schools that are crying out for the funding they need to educate their pupils and students,” said Kevin Courtney, the union’s joint general secretary.

The Department for Education (DfE) told The Independent the threat to end tax breaks had been dropped because more private schools were already supporting state schools – but was unable to provide any evidence for the claim.

The proposal was made in a schools’ green paper 18 months ago – and repeated in the 2017 general election manifesto – calling on larger private schools to sponsor academies, set up free schools or offer more free bursaries.

Smaller schools should provide staff to support teaching in minority subjects which state schools struggle to make viable, such as further maths, coding, languages such as Mandarin and Russian, and classics.

They were also encouraged to allow state pupils to use their science labs and music, drama and sporting facilities.

Sixth-form scholarships could also be provided, plus help for older pupils to make university applications, the consultation paper said.

“We propose to set new benchmarks that independent schools are expected to meet, in line with their size and capacity,” the document stated.

“We think it is essential that independent schools deliver these new benchmarks.

"If they do not, we will consider legislation to ensure that those independent schools that do not observe these new benchmarks cannot enjoy the benefits associated with charitable status.”

But the government’s response to its own consultation – which also sets aside £50m to provide more grammar school places – drops all mention of sanctions.

Instead, it argues independent schools are “willing to think afresh about what more they could do to make their expertise and resources available to support state schools, in recognition of their responsibility to their local communities”.

They had “expressed desire to do more to better target bursaries to children from disadvantaged backgrounds such as looked-after children,” for example.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “It looks like Tory ministers are continuing to rip up their own election manifesto page by page.

“Just weeks after walking away from their own ‘guarantee’ not to cut school budgets, they are now abandoning their pledge to look again at tax giveaways for private schools.”

Labour would end the VAT exemption for private school fees to fund free school meals for every primary school child, Ms Rayner said.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “There never was a formal proposal to change independent schools’ charitable status.

“It was mooted among a number of ideas and we are confident that there is already a real commitment in place to improve cooperation between independent and state schools and focus on making a difference.”

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