Boarding schools could be forced to cut staff or even close their doors if Labour carries out its threat to scrap tax breaks for the independent sector, the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) warned today.
Ending rate relief would not only be self-defeating, because it would mean schools had to cut back on the work they did with local communities, but it could also put the future of some schools in doubt, the association said.
The warning comes after shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said a future Labour government could abolish relief from business rates for private schools.
In a speech earlier this week, he said independents were not doing enough to earn the “subsidy”, worth approximately £147 million a year across more than 1,250 schools, and warned that under a Labour government they would only qualify if they passed a “schools partnership standard” committing them to work with state schools.
The proposal has been widely condemned in the independent sector, with Mark Beard, the headmaster of Mr Hunt’s alma mater, University College School in London, branding it “offensive bigotry”.
In an open letter to Mr Hunt, Robin Fletcher, the BSA's national director, said the future of boarding schools would be at risk if the proposals were implemented.
Boarding schools have already been hit by the recession, and middle-class parents declining ability to pay spiralling fees, forcing many to try to recruit more students from abroad.
Mr Fletcher said it was “incorrect” to claim that boarding schools were not working with the state sector and added that these links would be under threat if rate relief was dropped.
Existing partnerships included sharing sports and arts facilities, transferring teachers between schools, and holding joint lessons and preparation sessions for university entrance, he said.
“Removing rate relief will massively restrict their ability to continue doing these valuable things, and in some cases could imperil the future of some of our members,” Mr Fletcher said. “This of course would be completely self-defeating with [Labour's] proposed schools partnership standard in some cases potentially removing treasured and highly valued boarding schools from the communities they have served for generations.”
He told TES that small schools were particularly vulnerable and could decide to stop offering boarding – putting the jobs of pastoral and support staff at risk – or even shut completely.
“You could have a proprietor-owned school saying if their costs are going up 20 per cent they won’t bother running it any more. It is impossible to imagine that it won’t have an impact,” he said.
Hunt accused of 'offensive bigotry' by head of former private school - 25 Nov 2014
Private schools could lose tax breaks under Labour - 25 Nov 2014