Guardian News and Media /London
Labour has declared war on private schools, saying it wanted a “fully comprehensive’ system that is free “from the cradle to the grave”.
As shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested the independent system could be abolished, militant Labour activists are reportedly plotting the “full redistribution” of private schools’ assets – by seizing properties and investments and spending the proceeds on state schools.
Labour is already planning to scrap discounted business rates for private schools and will charge VAT on term fees if it comes to power. McDonnell said a future Jeremy Corbyn government would “address the issue of the role of private schools”.
The plans, which were revealed by The Daily Telegraph, are part of Labour’s “preparing for government” strategy in anticipation of an early election being called.
A party insider said the abolition of private schools and the “full redistribution” of their assets had already been discussed internally.
Activists are now pushing to gain backing for a motion at the party conference – which opened in Brighton on Saturday – calling for fee-paying schools to be scrapped.
The motion, submitted by the Labour Against Private Schools campaign group and which has already been backed by high-profile Labour figures including Ian Lavery, the party chairman, and former leader Ed Miliband, calls for “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.
If it is passed, it would remain Labour’s position until a general election.
McDonnell’s comments come as a leaked shadow Treasury document estimates that VAT on school fees and axing discounted business rates could bring in £1.6bn a year.
The shadow chancellor said: “Let’s make it absolutely clear: we want private schools to be treated like any other businesses, because that is what they are. Our objective is to have a fully comprehensive education system. So just like the NHS, education will be free at the point of need, from the cradle to the grave. I think this will be one of the defining issues a Jeremy Corbyn government will be remembered for.”
However, independent school leaders hit back furiously, accusing Labour of attempting to “rip apart the fabric of education” in this country.
Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: “Independent school parents and their children should not be blamed for social inequality, which has far more complex causes. Putting politics before pupils is simply unacceptable.”
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