Abolishing private schools could become education's Brexit, tying up policy-making for years, according to a former senior Department for Education civil servant.
Natalie Perera, now executive director at the Education Policy Institute, warned that it would take focus away from dealing with important education issues such as closing the disadvantage gap and tackling teacher shortages.
She was speaking at a Tes fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference yesterday.
Ms Perera, who was formerly the head of school funding reform at the Department for Education, said: “There are so many important things in education. There is the disadvantaged gap, there is poor access to good schools, there is a teacher shortage.
"We have lost three years of good public policymaking because of Brexit.
“I don’t want private schools to be the new Brexit where we lose three years or however long untangling all of the intricacies that come about with closing them down.”
The Labour Party passed a motion calling on the next party’s general election manifesto to commit to “integrate all private schools into the state sector”.
Panellists on a debate about school choice yesterday were asked if they supported Labour’s plans.
Paul Whiteman, the NAHT headteachers’ union’s general secretary described the plans as a “distraction” and when pressed on the question said that it didn’t matter whether he supported it or not.
He said: “We need to think about how we get the whole education system working together rather than having this big-ticket philosophical debate.”
John Blake, director of policy and strategy at Now Teach said he opposed the plans and drew a comparison between moves to abolish private schools and the current government’s decision to close down parliament.
He said: “I think private schools have driven up their prices to absurd levels which explains why they have no political constituency left.
"But ultimately no government of this country should be expropriating the assets of private and charitable institutions and attempt to deny parental choice in that way.
“It would seem the most grievous attack on the fundamental rights of people in British democracy were it not for the fact that the governing party tried to shut Parliament unconstitutionally.”
Mark Lehain, the director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, said: “Paul [Whiteman] said it was a distraction. It is not a distraction, it’s a flipping disgrace.
"And I say this as someone who would never send my kids to private schools, would never work there and have no interest in that.
"There are far better ways of shrinking down the independent school sector and that is making state schools as good as they can possibly be so more people choose them.”