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Debate: Save Our Private Schools! VAT Should Not Be Charged On Private School Fees

Should private schools continue to enjoy their tax advantages or not?

Britain has an education system that perpetuates inequality. Seven per cent of its children go to private schools and yet these institutions receive around three times the funding per student as the average state school. Privately educated people then go on to dominate our elite institutions. They are seven times as likely to win a place at Oxford and Cambridge universities as their state-educated peers, and they make up 65 per cent of senior judges and 29 per cent of members of parliament. Private schools foster a cycle of privilege with the result that Britain has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world. So Labour leader Keir Starmer’s proposal to impose VAT on private school fees must surely be welcomed. The estimated £1.3 billion a year the tax would raise would be used to fund more teachers and provide mental health counselling in the state sector. Doubtless some parents would no longer be able to afford the higher fees but there is capacity within the state system to accommodate the fall-out. Who could possibly object to a tax that would benefit the majority of Britain’s schoolchildren?

Those who believe in aspiration, that’s who, argue the champions of private schools. People like Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s parents, who, as he has explained, were not wealthy or privileged but who worked hard so that they could send their son to one of this country’s top independent schools. Removing the tax breaks on private schools would amount to class war and punish parents who are prepared to make sacrifices to give their children the best start in life. Because, let’s be honest, it won’t be the one per cent who will be affected by this change, but the children of the ‘squeezed middle’ and the less well off who rely on bursaries and scholarships to access private education – many of whom these schools may no longer be able to support under Labour’s proposals.

Should private schools continue to enjoy their tax advantages or not?


For the motion

Fraser Nelson

Editor of The Spectator

Editor of The Spectator since 2009 where he has overseen a doubling of the magazine’s sales in a market that fell by two thirds. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph and is on the board of the Centre for Social Justice. He has presented two Channel Four documentaries on the subject of inequality and writes as often as he can get away with about the dynamics of the British labour market.  

Helen Pike

Master of Magdalen College School, Oxford

Master of Magdalen College School, Oxford.  She is the ISC representative on UCAS Council, sits on the Sutton Trust Advisory Board, and is a member of the CASE Global Board. Educated in the state sector, she read Modern History at the University of Oxford, was a postgraduate student in the USA, and taught at the University of Warwick. She enjoyed a variety of teaching, pastoral and academic roles in leading independent schools before becoming Headmistress of South Hampstead High School. She is a writer, academic editor, school governor and trustee of a newly founded school in Uganda.   
Against the motion

Ash Sarkar

Writer, journalist and broadcaster

Writer, journalist and broadcaster. She is Senior Editor at Novara Media, a left-leaning online news outlet, where her work focuses on race, gender, class and power. She lectures in political theory at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.

Melissa Benn

Writer and campaigner for a high-quality comprehensive school system.

Writer and campaigner for a high-quality comprehensive school system.  She is a former chair of Comprehensive Future and a founder member of the Private Education Policy Forum.  Her books on education include School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education  and Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service.  She is currently the Royal Literary Fund fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Education, Language and Psychology at York St John.   

Sir Anthony Seldon

Leading contemporary historian, educationalist, commentator and political author

One of Britain's leading contemporary historians, educationalists, commentators and political authors. Head of Epsom College since February 2023, he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham from 2015 to 2020 after being a transformative head for 20 years of Brighton College and then Wellington College. He is author or editor of over 45 books on contemporary history, including the inside books on the last six prime ministers, was the co-founder and first director of the Institute for Contemporary British History, is cofounder of Action for Happiness, was honorary historical adviser to 10 Downing Street for ten years, was the UK's Special Representative for Education to Saudi Arabia, was Deputy Chair of The Times Education Commission, was a member of the Government's First World War Culture Committee, was chair of the Comment Awards, is a director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is the President of IPEN, (International Positive Education Network), is Chair of the National Archives Trust and is initiator and deputy chair of the ‘commission on the centre’ run by the Institute for government.