Letters extra: Independent schools

9th February 2001 at 00:00

Where the money goes

As a private tutor I am fascinated by Phil Lambert's letter ( TES , January 26) demanding an inquiry into independent school funding and "let's see who subsidises whom" - although even on the figures he quotes the private sector is still saving the state pound;600 million per year.

Another hidden subsidy to the state is the practice of private tuition across the board but especially for GCSEA level in comprehensive schools.

Parents can pay up to pound;1,500 per year for this: I recently heard of a girl having A-level tuition at pound;900 per term. Despite cost there is a high and growing demand for private tuition, as shown by the increase in the number of tutors' entries in Yellow Pages (Cardiff area) from about a dozen to 20 over several years. I myself have been tutoring a substantial proportion of students in A-level classes for English, perhaps as much as a quarter. Not only are parents of state school children supporting the state system out of their own pockets by relieving burdens on the schools, they are contributing in no small way to the perceived public success of the schools through published results. I was intrigued to discover that my students are almost invariably drawn from schools topping the league tables for Wales.

Professor James Tooley in his recent book Reclaiming Education (which makes out the case for education being wholly privately-funded) estimates that of pound;1 raised by taxation only 60p is in fact received by the schools.nbsp;By contrast about 90 per cent of fees paid to me contributes directly to children's teaching.

We do indeed need a thorough-going survey to find out where the money goes and to what effect it is being spent in British education?

Nigel Probert
29 Cae Caradog

Independent school's contribution

Letters such as that from Phil Limbert ( TES letters, January 26) are invariably characterised by their revelation of the deep-seated prejudices of the author and ignorance of the facts. He has done more research than most without understanding either the implications of the taxes he has listed or the way the majority of independent schools operate.

To gain the benefits he implies, independent schools would have to hold significant invested funds, be trading stocks and shares on a regular basis and buying and selling property both to derive full benefit from capital gains tax and to avoid stamp duty. Few schools are in a position to do this and even if they were the Charity Commission would never condone such speculative activity.

Surpluses are reinvested in the school and any self-respecting accountant could quite legitimately manage a school's financial affairs to minimise the effect of corporation tax. Mr Limbert makes the common mistake in assuming that all independent schools are royal and ancient foundations with substantial endowed funds.

I was the bursar of a very successful school and we had no endowed funds, few investments, a bank loan and an overdraft at the end of every term. We received one legacy in four years and this is not untypical of the way in which many independent schools operate. They rely on fee income not handouts and they receive that fee income because they are good schools.

Other than as a vindictive measure what possible reason can there be for charging VAT on school fees when education is VAT exempt? Because education is VAT exempt independent schools are unable to recover VAT on expenditure as can any VAT registered business and most maintained schools. A school has calculated that between 1995 and 2000 it paid pound;1.6M in irrecoverable VAT.

Reduce that figure to a conservative pound;1M per school, multiply it by the 1,300 schools under the umbrella of the Independent Schools Council and you might gain a better perspective as to who is subsidising who.

What about the contribution that independent schools make to their local community of which they are often the hub? Boarding schools in particular are manpower intensive and employ many people from their local area to say nothing of the money spent on goods and services, maintenance of facilities and capital expenditure.

To the media and others all independent school parents are wealthy and "posh". Of course some are wealthy but many are typical of the parent who wrote to you last week and make enormous sacrifices for their children which they can ill afford. To fund pound;10,000 worth of fees requires about pound;17,000 gross income so the government takes the pound;7,000 and has no responsibility for the education of that child. The independent sector does not hold the monopoly of good schools but overall it has an excellent reputation, both in this country and abroad, and provides legitimate choice for parents. If all independent schools closed, it would be necessary to run and find teachers for at least another 400 large schools and probably more. The Government is on to a good thing and what is more I think it knows it.

Mike Sant
General Secretary
Independent Schools' Bursars Association
5 Chapel Close
Old Basing

The private option

How refreshing to read the letter from J O'Sullivan ( TES , January 26) questioning the stereotypical attitudes which prevail about parents who send their children to private schools.

While some undoubtedly are bastions of wealth and privilege, many are packed with children of parents desperately seeking a satisfactory alternative to what their LEAs offer them. Many of these parents go without and struggle to pay fees.

In the Bolton area, a number of parents faced with the prospect of sending their child to a school which offers an 11 per cent chance of achieving five GCSEs, grades A* - C, are looking closely at the private option to offer their children a chance. This is because what the LEA has on offer is unsatisfactory, worsened by the discriminatory church school system prevalent in the area, denying a decent education to many local youngsters.

But, perhaps what is most damning of all, is that many of the parents sending their children to our local independent school are themselves teachers in the state sector. That surely says a lot more than I ever can.

Dawn Robinson-Walsh
268 Tottington Road

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