Private schools are being hindered from taking on more looked-after children by "bureaucratic delays", the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has said.
In a letter to children's minister Nadhim Zahawi – seen by Tes – ISC general secretary Julie Robinson said private schools had been told they could not offer more places for vulnerable children until 2019 because of bureaucratic hold-ups.
"The Independent Schools Council is glad to support your drive for more looked-after children to find places in independent schools and we have attended three meetings to help progress this project," she wrote.
“We are keen to start providing places as soon as possible, but have been informed that there is likely to be a delay well into next year."
Ms Robinson said this "would mean that children miss potentially life-transforming opportunities", and she called on the Department for Education to "expedite the process".
She added: “I am sure that you will agree that it would be a terrible shame if the scheme could not move forward purely because of bureaucratic delays.”
The letter followed recent comments by Mr Zahawi calling for private schools to offer more places to children in care, to avoid losing their tax breaks under a Labour government.
He told the Telegraph that he wanted to “get between two and five kids in every independent school in the country” by expanding the Boarding Schools Partnership to 1,000 schools.
Labour has previously pledged to provide free school meals for primary school children, funded by the introduction of VAT on private school fees, if the party won the next election. In recent years, private schools' tax breaks have come under threat from parties across the political spectrum.
Ms Robinson suggested that Mr Zahawi's comments mischaracterised independent schools’ position and undermined the “successful acceptance and implementation of this scheme”.
“We absolutely do not see LAC [looked-after children] as some kind of trade-off,” she wrote.
“We are not undertaking this with ulterior motives in mind or in response to financial threats against our sector. We fear that such characterisations feed an unhelpful and incorrect narrative of independent schools taking LAC solely to avoid financial penalties.”
The DfE has been contacted for comment.