Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has today publicly backed a campaign to integrate all independent schools into the state sector, saying that “private schools don’t need to exist, and should not exist.”
McDonnell’s endorsement is likely to be a significant boost to the Labour Against Private Schools campaign, which hopes to pass its motion at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this weekend.
The motion calls for private schools to be stripped of their charitable status, to have limits placed on their pupils’ entry to universities, and for their endowments and assets to be redistributed in the state education sector.
In his statement endorsing the campaign, Mr McDonnell said: “We know that our society is grotesquely unequal, and part of the reason for that is because of the inequalities in education, particularly in private schools, where large amounts of money are spent on a privileged few.
“That’s why I support the campaign now for us to talk about how we ensure an integrated education system, where private schools don’t need to exist, and should not exist. Where we have equality of education, which rhymes with equality of opportunity, to give all our children the life chances that they deserve, no matter what their background.
Private schools 'should not exist'
“I hope this campaign will pick up support and eventually become Labour Party policy. I think we can gain a large number of votes on this issue, because I believe people think that everyone should have a fair start in life, and that starts by making sure that we all have the same access to education facilities.”
The Labour Against Private Schools campaign, which uses the Twitter handle @AbolishEton, is already backed by Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery, former leader Ed Miliband and frontbencher Clive Lewis.
The campaign said it is “hopeful” it will win support for its motion at the Labour Party Conference this weekend, having gained support from constituency Labour parties across the country as well as more than 350 Labour councillors and 17 Labour MPs from across the party.
A leaked report from Mr McDonnell’s office last week showed that the Labour leadership is committed to its 2017 manifesto pledge to charge VAT on private school fees, and now wants to remove business rate exemption from private schools as well. But the campaign believes Labour “must go much further” in the next election manifesto.
Rob Poole, a state school teacher from Manchester and one of the organisers of the campaign, said: “We are hopeful that our motion will be debated on the conference floor, but we believe it must include our most radical demands. Committing the party to removing private school charitable status alone, for example, won’t do enough to challenge the most elite private schools like Eton.”
Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents leading private schools, questioned whether the public would be “comfortable” with an education system that offers no alternative to government-run schools. He has said previously: "The Labour campaign to effectively destroy independent schools is not only a fundamental attack on parental choice, but it would rip apart the fabric of education in this country.”
The Independent Schools Council said that even imposing VAT on fees for private schools would force the closure of many smaller private schools. Chief executive Julie Robinson said previously: “Currently, 600,000 children are educated in independent schools, saving the taxpayer £3.5 billion.”