Labour ‘doesn’t care’ about children, claims Gillian Keegan

Gillian Keegan said Labour's private school policy is 'reckless'
Gillian Keegan said Labour's private school policy is 'reckless' - EDDIE MULHOLLAND

Labour “does not care” about children, the Education Secretary has said as she warned the party’s private school policy is “reckless”.

Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to end the VAT exemption for independent schools are “pernicious” and “ideologically driven”, according to Gillian Keegan.

She seized on comments made by a Labour frontbencher last week that class sizes in the state sector could get bigger as a result of the policy, claims denied by Sir Keir.

The Labour leader insisted that Emily Thornberry was “wrong” to say that “if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes, we have larger classes”.

Responding in an interview with the Telegraph, Ms Keegan said: “As Emily Thornberry said, you know, she doesn’t care what happens to these kids. She doesn’t care.

“They say about how ‘it doesn’t matter if class sizes get bigger’. It matters to the teachers and it matters to the children. So they might not think it matters but it does matter.

“Class sizes on average have been about the same for years. So having something that’s unplanned, that ideological is completely disruptive and reckless, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it – that lack of care.”

Ms Keegan added that Labour is “ideologically opposed to private schools. They’ll say they’re not, but they ideologically will be very happy if they didn’t exist, even though a lot of them went to one and a lot of them sent their kids to one”.

The Labour party confirmed in its manifesto this week that it will end the VAT exemption for independent schools, which could add 20 per cent to fees as early as September.

‘Disingenuous’

Ms Keegan said the way the Labour party has portrayed the policy is “really, really disingenuous”.

“So what you’re saying is parents who work, who pay tax on their income, who then choose to use their disposable income to pay for their child’s education, saving the state £7,000 – that is somehow a tax break, because there’s no VAT,” she said.

“So they’ve tried to frame it as though there’s some tax dodge. No, these parents are saving the state £7,000.”

She explained that for children who are educated in the state sector, the cost to the taxpayer is on average £7,000 each year.

Experts claim that the most expensive private schools such as Eton and Winchester Colleges are likely to be shielded from Labour’s VAT plans, either by being able to absorb the additional cost or passing it onto parents without fear of them leaving.

Meanwhile, smaller private schools say they have been forced to draw up sweeping cost-cutting plans to avoid passing on the extra charge in full amid concerns that it could deter many families.

It comes as the head of the Independent Schools Association (ISA), which represents 660 small private schools, wrote to the Telegraph urging the Labour party to “rethink” its policy “for the benefit of children”.

Hardest hit

Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, chief executive of the ISA, said his members – which include inner-city schools, faith schools and special education needs schools – will be “hardest hit” by Labour’s policy.

In a letter to this newspaper, he said: “We are concerned that Labour has ignored the diverse reality of our schools.

“Most are not wealthy and will have to pass on the full 20 per cent to parents, many of whom will struggle to pay the extra amount. Some schools will not survive.

“This will not only disrupt the education of thousands of children and harm the communities the schools serve, but will also have serious consequences for the state sector, as pupils are forced to leave independent schools in search of state places.”

A Labour party spokesman said: “Labour will invest in delivering a brilliant state education for children in every state school by recruiting over 6,500 new teachers, funded by ending tax breaks for private schools.

“Independent schools have raised fees above inflation for well over a decade and do not have to pass Labour’s proposed change on to parents.”

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