VAT on private schools may lead to ‘larger classes’ in state sector – Thornberry

Class sizes in state schools may increase as a result of Labour adding VAT to private school fees, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said the policy will generate roughly £1.5bn a year, which Labour plans to invest in state education, including in recruiting more teachers.

Labour’s Ms Thornberry was asked about the potentially thousands of students who are expected to leave private schools because of the 20% rise in prices as a result of the introduction of VAT.

She told GB News: “Certainly, some schools that have vacancies – my primary schools and my secondary schools have space and they’re very welcome.

“They are good schools and people should send their children there. I mean, it’s fine, and if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes, we have larger classes.”

Labour Party Conference 2023
Class sizes in state schools may increase as a result of Labour adding VAT to private school fees, Emily Thornberry has said (Peter Byrne/PA)

She continued: “All we need to do is we need to raise the money in order to make sure that children who go into state schools have had breakfast.

“That’s what our priority is, and we need to raise the money from somewhere. What we’re going to do is we are saying everything we’re going to spend money on, where money is coming from because we will have a proper manifesto.

“All our spending commitments will be costed, and we will be able to say where it comes from and, sure, there may well be complaints about it.

“I understand that, but I’m afraid that if I have a choice between putting VAT on private schools and making sure that the children in my area can have breakfast before they start learning, I know where I am.”

She added: “It’s not much to ask and if it means putting VAT on private schools – the question is, is it appropriate in these circumstances for schools, such as in Eton or Winchester or whatever, to be seen as a charity and that, therefore, they should not be paying VAT on the huge fees that are already charged?”

Budget 2024
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan criticised the plan (James Manning/PA)

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said pupils would be impacted by “Labour’s politics of envy”.

She said: “Today Labour admitted their tax raid will lead to ‘larger classes’ in state schools, punishing children to pay for their plans.

“It’s not just hard-working parents who will pay the price for Labour with £2,094 of extra taxes, it’s also our children who will be impacted by Labour’s politics of envy.

“The choice is clear: stick with the clear plan that is working, taking bold action to drive up school standards with Rishi Sunak. Or go back to square one with Keir Starmer and larger school class sizes, damaging children’s futures.”