Labour’s plan to eliminate public schools.

Party says it would ‘integrate’ independent schools into the state sector, while universities would be told to ensure that no more than seven per cent of their students were privately educated.

Independent newspaper

What does abolishing private schools mean in reality?

The Labour Party Conference has stated:

  • Private schools will be integrated into the state system
  • VAT exemption on school fees will be abolished
  • Private schools’ charitable status will be removed
  • Private schools’ land, buildings and other assets will be distributed into the state education system
  • Universities will have to cap the number of admissions from private schools at 7%

What does integration mean? Presumably, the transfer of private school’s into the state system. Will Eton become a council-funded academy with its teachers on the state pay scale?

Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn (privately educated), will nationalise the private education sector and we all know how well nationalisation has gone in the past.

A fairer education system

To their credit, the Labour Party want to make the UK’s education system fairer for all. This is a very laudable ambition and one I support in principle. I’d love for my son to be able to access the same high-quality education he is getting at a private school for free. Of course I would!

Labour’s point seems to be that no child should have the opportunity of a better education simply because their parents can afford it. And this is the meat of the matter. The state system is not a direct analogue for the private sector. Therefore it cannot just be fairer, state schools need to be as good as the best private schools. And perhaps private schools are, in part, good because they would not survive if they were mediocre.

The current state education system is not fair. The quality of education a child receives depends entirely on their postcode. Even then, your local school needs to have the capacity – they often do not. In these cases, parents are left with no choice but to place their children in state schools further from home. Every year we see the same school place lottery. 

All children and indeed adults should have the same access to an excellent education from cradle to grave. This is something every political party should aspire to and also engage in a little introspection about. After all, they have all overseen the demoralisation and underpayment of teachers, been guilty of constant tinkering, and all have underfunded education. This, in turn, has seen the state education system deteriorate. Politicians must get the state system working right for the children it currently serves before abolishing a generally excellent private sector. 

Until state education is consistently outstanding, no party should be looking to remove my option to provide a private education for my son.

Me

Can the state education system cope?

Our state education system is overstretched with large class sizes (30+), and teachers are in short supply. If nothing is done, right now, it is going to get worse. The Times Educational Supplement suggests an additional 47,000 teachers are needed to cope with an expected surge of 600,000 pupils currently being shoved into an already stretched state education system.

State education cannot deliver at a high quality, consistently, from school to school. Ofsted’s reports show that around 1 in 10 schools in England do not meet the standard of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. Rather they languish in the ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ category.

So the Labour party wants to take yet another 600,000 private pupils (additional to the 600,000 already about to surge through the system) and thrust these into that same state system. Presumably, that would mean the 47,000 extra teachers, even if they could be recruited, would still be inadequate. Well, there’s really no ‘presumably’ is there?

If the Labour party get their way we will see schools which are borderline begin to fail, more teachers leave the profession, exam scores fall, and overall education standards plummet. More schools will fail to reach the ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ level and more schools will be put into special measures. My opinion. 

Too much demand for too few good schools.

Is Corbyn’s nationalisation of private schooling the politics of envy? An act of class warfare? Maybe, whatever it is, it is ill-thought through. It’s a policy designed to appeal to socialist idealists. It’s a policy which currently insists that all children will have the same opportunity of education even if that quality is lower. 

Good schools in England face enormous pressure for places. It is a crime to falsify where you live in order to get your child into a good school. Parents relocate to be in a good school’s catchment area and even then, there may not be enough places for all the children in the area. Demand for good schools drives house prices. The difference in house prices between a good school’s area and a school that needs to improve can be around 12%.

The state education system simply cannot take in the number of extra pupils that will be ‘expelled’ from these schools. Even if the teachers, buildings, books, and assets are redistributed into the state system. I suspect a good deal of private teachers will up-sticks and move to another country or to jobs where they will be paid similar salaries.

The state system is underfunded. Private schools’ formerly excellent facilities will degrade over time. A computer per pupil will be reduced to a computer shared between multiple pupils. Sports fields will be sold off.

The pressure on good schools is already huge and unsustainable. The difference in the quality of state education is real and stark. These facts cannot be ignored.

My experience of state and private schooling.

My partner and I put our son into the village school in Berkshire. He was happy there, got homework mostly appropriate to his age and ability including reading at a level to stretch him. He was doing well within the confines of what the state provides. We had no major concerns about his education given we and the school were giving him what he needed.

Then we separated. My son went to a school in Devon, and it was terrible. Lack of homework, reading was at the level of the lowest common denominator and bullying appeared to be tolerated. So we looked around and decided to put him into a private school. So far he is thriving. He even sets his alarm clock (Darth Vader model) to make sure he gets up in time for the school run.

Now, we are by no means privileged, elite, nor born with a silver spoon. We are making sacrifices to pay for his schooling. In fact, a lot of parents who put their children into this school appear to be working men and women doing ordinary jobs and making similar sacrifices to put their children in a good school.

If private schools are abolished by Labour, who will it hurt?

And this is the crux. It might be easier to ask who this won’t hurt. This won’t hurt the children or pockets of the ‘elite’. The moguls, aristocracy, royals, leaders of industry nor anyone you may think of when you imagine the types that send their children to a private school. The wealthy. People like me and my son will be hurt, people who are already making sacrifices to put their children into private schools. For me, the rise in prices once VAT is imposed and charitable status is removed may well mean I have to withdraw the boy and put him back into the local school which served him so badly. Or he relocates.

The wealthy will soak up the price increase or move their children’s schooling to a country with a less rabid view of private education. Labour’s real Nemesis will be unaffected. The likes of me and the people striving to give their kids a decent education will be the ones who are affected most by this new scheme.

If Labour is elected to form a government, what next?

Well, here it is. Day one. Prime Minister Corbyn – I mentioned he was privately educated? – reaches out for his Bic Biro and signs the Nationalisation of Private Schools act.

Maybe a little presidential but you get the gist.

Private schools up and down the country sign all their assets over to the state.

No. They engage lawyers, lobbyists, public opinion, alumni, and more. They end up in court, rather quickly, and start to protest the seizing of their buildings, land, and more. They object to the imposition of VAT and smart, well-paid lawyers debate the charitable status of these schools in court. They embarrass the government by comparing private school results to state schools.

Private schools open their facilities to the local communities. In fact, a lot do already. They offer bursaries or scholarships, many do already.

In the end, Labour’s policy will, if they pursue it, take many years in court. Every school will appeal the seizure of its assets. 2,500 schools’ appeals flood the court system. The Independent Schools Council will appeal on behalf of all private schools. It will be expensive, wasteful, and pointless.

In the end, even if the court system agrees and private schools are taken into the state system, it will not work unless the state system is already excellent, well provisioned, and properly funded. If it is not up to standard it will be unfair to the kids who are moved from private to state education. 

In conclusion.

I support Labour’s desire to establish a fair education system, but the state system needs to be at the level of quality of the best schools (private or state) before abolishing any sort of private education provision.

The state education system needs the capacity to cope with absorbing any runoff from closing the private education sector. That means teachers, infrastructure, and funding.

We need at least 47,000 new teachers. 1 in 10 schools are inadequate. Focus on getting these factors right, then we can talk about abolishing private schools.

References

Times Educational Supplement Article 6th April 2018

The I Report on the Labour Party Conference

LSE Article on house prices

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