McDonnell backs plan to abolish private schools

A campaign by Labour activists to abolish private schools has been endorsed by John McDonnell as a move to make it official party policy gathers pace.

In a statement this morning, the shadow chancellor and close Jeremy Corbyn ally said he backed the campaign “to talk about how we ensure an integrated education system, where private schools don’t need to exist, and should not exist”.

I hope this campaign will pick up support and eventually become Labour Party policy

The campaign, called AbolishEton, has prepared a motion to be put to the Labour Party conference this weekend. It has the backing of the Momentum group of party members, so organisers are confident it will be selected for a vote.

Should the vote pass in Brighton, it will become Labour policy to withdraw private schools’ charitable status, business rate exemption and “all other public subsidies and tax privileges”, and redistribute their endowments, investments and properties “democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions” if the party wins a general election.

“I hope this campaign will pick up support and eventually become Labour Party policy,” said McDonnell.

“I think we can gain a large number of votes on this issue, because I believe people think that everyone should have a fair start in life, and that starts by making sure that we all have the same access to education facilities.”

This weekend’s conference motion can still be amended and watered-down during a process called “compositing”, during which delegates putting forward the motion meet with the shadow education team, led by Angela Rayner.

But Holly Rigby, co-ordinator of the campaign, said she was “really hopeful that it’s not going to be watered-down”.

“We know Angela has been really committed to securing a socially just and equal education system, and we want the most radical version of our demands that we can possibly get,” she said.

The motion is now backed by more than 350 Labour councillors and 17 Labour MPs, but not everyone is as supportive.

Private school leadership groups are unsurprisingly against the idea, and have warned of an increased burden on taxpayers, and that the best state schools will become more elitist due to rising house prices.

Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said: “It is frustrating to see yet another ill-thought-through political attack on families who are already saving the state thousands of pounds each a year and ask for no rebate on their taxes.

“In some cases, part of the fees paid by these parents will already be used to fund their schools’ charitable activities and additional support to state schools.”

Dr David James, a private school deputy headteacher and former adviser to Conservative schools minister Nick Gibb, warned on twitter that the proposal would lead to the closure of “many” schools, to the detriment of staff and pupils.

He demanded that the National Education Union and NASUWT “unambiguously speak out in support of all [independent school] members against the political threats to our schools & pupils”.

Responding, Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said her union “will enter into discussions with Labour as and when policy announcements are made about independent schools in order to ensure teacher and support staff jobs are protected in all circumstances”.

Rigby said insisted unions were “on the side of private and state school teachers”, and said she and other NEU members would propose a motion at the union’s conference next year, aimed at making it official NEU policy to support the abolition of private schools.

“We’re very clear we’re not talking about knocking private schools down or closing them down, we’re talking about integrating them, so private school teachers just become state school teachers and actually have much fairer conditions. We see now that private school teachers are about to go on strike over their pensions. They’re not well-protected like we are to some extent in the state sector.”

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  1. Mark Watson

    I’ve commented on this before. Class warfare adopting Mugabe’s land-grabbing approach.

    Never mind the principles, it’s genuinely eye-opening to see people in 2019 England saying that the State should be able to appropriate land and assets lawfully owned by private individuals and organisations. Another term for this would be theft.

    Most independent schools are owned by charities or private individuals. So when McDonnell and co glibly talk about “redistributing their endowments, investments and properties” does he envisage paying a fair market price (which the Government couldn’t possibly afford out of the education budget), or is he salivating over the prospect of stealing from the so-called wealthy?

    Changing the rules on how independent schools are treated for tax is something that should be within the power of a Government. State-sponsored theft should not.

    • I, too, am concerned about grabbing land lawfully owned. It should be possible to change the status of fee paying school, even integrating them into the state sector, without appropriating land. Many state schools already operate on land which is not owned by the state but by a trust, foundation or diocese. Some free schools have even been given the freehold of land purchased by taxpayers – not acceptable but that’s a different argument.

      • Mark Watson

        And this has been done. A number of independent schools have changed status and become free schools, moving from being private and fee paying to state-funded with no fees. But the critical thing is that this was THEIR decision, and in most cases was as a result of the school no longer being financially viable as it couldn’t attract enough fee-paying pupils. (I believe that in most cases the land was owned by charities which granted a 125-year lease to the academy trust running the free school, so it’s the same set-up as most academies).

        I’ve got no problem whatsoever with encouraging independent schools to transition to state schools, but that’s a totally different scenario to forced appropriation.

  2. Mark Watson

    Another point to bear in mind (which isn’t usually discussed) is that although most of them are, not all private schools are charities.

    According to their website the Independent Schools Council represents over 1,300 independent schools and 989 ISC schools have charitable status. So about 25% don’t.

    I don’t know what the overall proportions are, but safe to say a substantial number of private schools aren’t charities and so presumably won’t be affected by a future Government changing the charitable status of private schools and withdrawing business rate exemptions etc.

    I’d love to hear Holly Rigby and John McDonnell explain in detail exactly how they are going to “redistribute the endowments, investments and properties” owned by these private individuals and companies.

  3. Norman blum

    Rather than narrowing the educational gap by improving the state sector labour has decided as a policy to destroy the private sector and bring standards down to the lowest common denominator

    In spite of this it appears that one rule applies to the public in another to the politicians Diane Abbott Storwood labour Frontbencher decided wisely to privately educate her children

    In no way does the private sector deprive the public sector fees are paid for out of texting come by parents who have made a choice of what To spend their income on

    We seem to be looking to turn the clock back to the socialist experiments of the early 20th century in Russia China not to mention Venezuela