Leading headmistress criticises Labour’s private school plans

Labour’s attack on private education is a “vote loser” with the public keen for fee-paying schools to open, not close, according to a leading headmistress.

Fiona Boulton, chairwoman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), said the party’s plans for the sector are fuelled by a “desire to damage”.

She also suggested that wealth and privilege are not the same thing, and argued that “having money and being in an independent school does not necessarily mean a carefree childhood”.

Her comments on Labour come amid a growing row between the sector and the party over the future of private schools.

At its party conference, Labour announced plans to “integrate” fee-paying schools into the state sector if it were to come to power.

Mrs Boulton told the HMC’s annual conference in London: “Voters want the Government to help more children to get access to independent schools. Parents are ambitious for their children and people want to see our schools opening up, not closing down.

“This tells us that the policy of destroying great independent schools is a vote loser. The political activists who want to tax good schools to death without a notion of how to nurture achievement elsewhere, do not understand the common sense of the British people.”

Her comments came as polling of UK adults, commissioned by HMC, suggested that many are in favour of allowing parents to pay for schooling.

Around two thirds (68%) of those questioned agreed that parents should be able to choose to pay for their child’s education, if they can afford it.

Just under a fifth (18%) disagreed.

A breakdown by political affiliation shows that the vast majority (83%) of Conservative voters are in favour of allowing parents to choose, along with more than half (56%) of Labour voters and 70% of those voting Liberal Democrat.

Mrs Boulton, who is also head of the all-girls Guildford High School, reiterated private educators’ fears that measures to impose “crippling taxes” is abolition of the sector “by the back door” and accused Labour of making “ignorant” decisions.

“Do not be fooled into thinking that imposing crippling taxes is anything other than abolition by the back door,” she said.

“It would ensure that many independent schools would not survive, and others will become more expensive. State schools will see larger class sizes and burgeoning costs.

“The decision taken by Labour conference to abolish our schools was based on ignorance and the desire to damage, whilst independent schools have for years been quietly educating children, alongside creating free and discounted places, sponsoring successful academies and delivering more than 5,000 helpful projects in state schools’ communities.”

In her speech to the conference, Mrs Boulton said that independent schools deal with the same social issues as those in the state sector.

“Having money and being in an independent school does not necessarily mean a carefree childhood,” she said.

“As head of an independent school I have had to deal with domestic abuse, neglect, murder, mental health issues – and the queue for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) is the same queue that all headteachers in this country are battling with.

“Chronic, heartbreaking illnesses and their devastating effects hit all schools, and a serious case review is a serious case review whoever you are.

“Having a rock solid, supportive family, however that is made up, is a privilege. Being enveloped in love and feeling secure is a privilege. Having firm and supportive friendships is a privilege; having inspirational teachers, who make their subjects come alive, who look out for you and always go that extra mile is a privilege.

“And to assume that only independent schools are delivering on privilege is an insult to our state sector colleagues.”

Delegates at Labour’s conference earlier this month approved a motion which said a commitment to “integrate” private schools into the state sector should be included in the party’s next general election manifesto.

This would include the withdrawal of charitable status and “all other public subsidies and tax privileges”, including business rate exemption.

Properties and investment held by private schools would be “redistributed democratically and fairly” across the country’s educational institutions as part of the reforms.

And universities would have to admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population, currently around 7%.

The vote in favour of the motion came after shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said a future Labour government would scrap the “tax loopholes” which benefit private schools in its first budget.

In response to Mrs Boulton’s speech, she said: “Where the Tories have failed, the next Labour government will act, using our first Budget to immediately end the tax breaks gifted to private schools and reinvesting that money in our schools to improve the lives of all children, regardless of their background.

“We will end the absurd situation where every state school pays business rates but schools like Eton do not.”

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