Jamila Robertson is an entrepreneur and parliamentary candidate.
Labour’s call to shatter the “class ceiling” through a Jeremy Corbyn-era tax on private schools perpetuates a tired brand of politics of envy. Schools like mine are the perfect example of social mobility in action and why charitable status is important.
I went to Christ’s Hospital, a school founded by Edward VI in 1552 to house and provide education for London’s poor. Now nestled in the West Sussex countryside, Christ’s Hospital provides free or substantially reduced-cost places to over 660 of its 900 pupils.
Between 2020-21, the school spent £21,583,000 on scholarships and bursaries, yet Sir Keir Starmer’s tax raid, which would remove private schools’ charitable status, apply 20 per cent VAT, and make them liable to pay business rates, could make schools like mine obsolete.
Bob Judson, a former Christ’s Hospital governor and alumnus, says:
“They are clearly playing to political soundbites to say private schools are for the rich and therefore we can tax the rich, and this is a win.”
“There is obviously a reality which is being argued not least by the HMC [The Heads’ Conference], to say ‘do you really know what you’re doing if you do this’. Because yes you’re going to make it more difficult for independent schools themselves, but you’re also going to create a situation where a lot of parents pull their children out of private education, because it‘s suddenly going to be too expensive.”
By not being educated in state schools, private school students save the taxpayer £4.4bn every year. The withdrawal of charitable status will undoubtedly put pressure on the state sector, with private school pupils seeking places at the highest-performing state schools. Exodus predictions range from 25,000-135,000 pupils, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) anticipating that this number will be 40,000. Judson adds:
“I think the bottom line for me is, you’re [Labour] doing it because you think it appeals to your base from a political standpoint. What’s the cost? Because it’s not just the fiscal cost and a fiscal gain, it’s about the opportunity costs that will result from that change to the millions of children over time who no longer go to private school because of what you’ve done.”
One of the oldest boarding schools in England, CH – as it is affectionately known by pupils past and present who include Barnes Wallis, Roger Allam and England rugby star Joe Launchbury – offers pupils access to The Royal Mathematical School (founded by King Charles II), a theatre, art school, chapel and a chance to join the 100-piece band that accompanies pupils as they march into lunch every day.
“My whole life would have been completely different if I hadn’t gone to CH,” he says. “It’s not a cliche, it does change lives. It’s not just about academics, for me it’s as much about life chances. What CH meant to me was the independence it gave me, the robustness as an individual. That is as much an advantage as anything else.”
JT, another alumnus and entrepreneur, says: “My low-income, single-parent upbringing was destined to cost me untold opportunities. Christ’s Hospital righted that wrong. They’re a masterclass in developing emotionally intelligent children, who are then able to open doors for themselves. This school does more than level the playing field.”
So why shouldn’t children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have the chance to attend a school like this? According to Starmer, “we can’t justify continued charitable status for private schools.”
Yet, charitable status is more than just “loopholes for private schools”. Educational charities, like all other charities, must demonstrate that they are for the public benefit. This is done by offering bursaries to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, or collaborating with state schools.
By demonising parents who work multiple jobs to save for private school, disparaging pupils awarded bursaries and misunderstanding the 73 per centof pupils at my old school, Labour seriously misapprehends the language, faith, SEND, and charity schools that make up the independent school sector.
It claims this charity tax on private schools will raise £1.6bn to go towards recruiting more maths and physics teachers. But they’ve already committed to spend this money elsewhere.
Initially calculated by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves as £1.7bn, the IFS acknowledges that Labour’s ‘charity tax’ would raise closer to £1.3-£1.5bn.
Labour plan to spend this on: ‘recruiting over 6500 new teachers to fill vacancies and skills gaps’; ‘rewarding new teachers who commit to a career in the classroom’; ‘early language interventions’; ‘establishing an Excellence in Leadership programme to support new headteachers’; ‘professional mental health support for every child’; ‘a teacher development programme’; and ‘reform[ing] Ofsted’.
All valiant pursuits, but Baines Cutler have forecast that the mass exodus of private school pupils would mean that the move is cost-neutral, at best, which leaves their ambitions (and sums) wanting.
In Starmer’s conference speech he recalled with pride his early school days hanging out with Fat Boy Slim and being the first in his family to go to university, and what a story it is. It is an admirable one; one of a young man who through hard work – and generous sponsorship at a private school – was able to become a barrister, Director of Public Prosecutions, and be knighted for services to his country.
So why would he want to deprive thousands of pupils of this? If stoking class wars was not the agenda, a more considered approach would be to encourage independent schools to increase bursaries to those from less advantaged backgrounds. Further depriving disadvantaged students seems a paltry alternative.
In the same speech, he derides the idea of Latin on the curriculum. So, in true Sir Keir fashion, let me tell you about Nikki. Nikki, another CH alumnus says this:
“I got the chance to study Latin, a passion that turned into a career when I retrained as a teacher when I was 30. Growing up in social housing in a single parent family it was not a given I would have the opportunity to study latin, sing at St Paul’s, and even meet the Queen. These experiences gave me the confidence and self-belief that I could do anything.”
In 2020-21 Eton spent £7m towards scholarships and bursaries, and Starmer’s own school Reigate Grammar spent a sizable £4.8m, although he says he doesn’t ‘recall’ who paid for his.
Once again we see the hypocrisy of someone who wants to deny others of advantages he has benefitted from; as ever with Labour, it’s a case of do as I say, not as I do. Or perhaps more appropriately, facias quod dicam, non quod faciam.