This article originally appeared in the Herald Newspaper on 9th October 2019.
As I’m sure you’ve seen being reported in the national media, the Labour Party Conference in September supported a motion to abolish independent schools in the UK and ‘redistribute’ their assets.
In a move pushed forward by a small group of activists within the party called ‘Abolish Eton’, the Labour Party are now promoting the most radical reform of education in the UK proposed since the Butler Act in 1944.
There are seven independent schools in my constituency of Wantage, and a further 40 across Oxfordshire. I’ve already had letters from parents concerned by this attack on their freedom to choose how their children are educated.
I agree that there is plenty of scope for better support of state education in England, and that is why I welcomed the announcement in August of a funding package to increase spending on schools by over £14 billion between now and 2023. However, abolishing excellent schools does nothing to improve our education system overall.
This decision, I believe, is based on ideology rather than a response to dealing with the real problems in education. Moreover, it is possible that Labour’s plan would breach the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to choose education.
What would happen if Labour followed through with their plan? State school class sizes would grow even further, resources would be stretched beyond breaking point and the financial strain on schools would be enormous. At present, independent schools contribute nearly £14billion to UK GDP each year and save the taxpayer £3.5billion per year through the education of children and young people at no cost to the taxpayer.
Independent schools also bring plenty of benefits beyond bolstering the UK Treasury: They work with the state sector whether through bursaries and scholarships or through partnership work. Independent Schools are able to invest in excellent facilities, such as sports pitches, art studios or creative centres, and often share these in partnership with local organisations, providing communities with facilities they might not otherwise have.
We can certainly do better to provide all of our teachers and children with better resources, whether in the state or independent sector, but this ‘slash and burn’ policy will do nothing to improve young people’s chances of success. I will continue to support this Government in developing an education policy based on raising standards across the board, not levelling them down.