From education to employment

Voters want parental choice and access to independent schools

HMC Chair Fiona Boulton

HMC Chair Fiona Boulton will reveal new evidence showing voters, including previous Labour supporters, want parental choice and access to independent schools.

Following the Labour Party conference motion to abolish independent schools outright or destroy them through punitive taxation, HMC Chair Fiona Boulton will reveal the following ComRes findings in her first speech:

Two thirds (68%) of the public think parents should be able to pay for their children’s education if they can afford it. Only one in five (18%) disagree. Over half (56%) of Labour voters agree, as do 83% of Conservative voters and 70% of Lib Dem voters

Nearly half (49%) of respondents support a Government policy to help pay for children from lower income backgrounds to attend independent schools.  Only 27% are not in favour. 46% of Labour voters support this policy, alongside 52% of Conservative and 47% of Lib Dem voters

More people distrust government and local councils to run schools effectively than trust them. 35% trusted them to do so compared to two in five (41%) who distrust them. 41% of Labour voters trust central Government or local council to run schools effectively whilst 36% of Conservative voters and 35% of Lib Dem voters say the same.

The findings come as parents, state school heads and commentators join the backlash against the Labour policy passed at conference to seize land and assets from independent schools and “integrate” them into the state sector. The motion resolved to start by withdrawing charitable status, charging multiple taxes and imposing quotas on universities based on school type rather than social background or academic ability.

Guildford High School head Mrs Boulton, who is the second female Chair of HMC and the first to run an all-girls school, will address nearly 300 of the UK’s leading independent school heads at HMC’s 150th anniversary conference. She will say that a “different conversation” is needed,  in which “there is no limit to aspiration for any child” and “we fight alongside each other in the pursuit of a privileged childhood for all.”

“We stand proud of our contribution to education in this country. This is a time for inclusion, acceptance and friendship and a time to inspire harmony,” Fiona will tell conference.

“Voters want the government to help more children to get access to independent schools. Parents are ambitious for their children and people want to see our schools opening up, not closing down.

“This tells us that the policy of destroying great independent schools is a vote loser. The political activists who want to tax good schools to death without a notion of how to nurture achievement elsewhere, do not understand the common sense of the British people.

“Educators, not politicians, should be in charge of schools, is the message from voters – and so say all of us. As leaders of independent schools we need to keep listening and learning. But it seems that independence and choice are concepts which never go out of fashion.

“And do not be fooled into thinking that imposing crippling taxes is anything other than abolition by the back door. It would ensure that many independent schools would not survive and others will become more expensive. State schools will see larger class sizes and burgeoning costs.

“The decision taken by Labour conference to abolish our schools was based on ignorance and the desire to damage, whilst independent schools have for years been quietly educating children, alongside creating free and discounted places, sponsoring successful academies and delivering more than 5,000 helpful projects in state schools communities.”

Mrs Boulton will describe how the independent sector has offered up to 10,000 places a year free of charge to lower income families. This is based on a model of joint funding, in which the government pays what it would cost to send each child to a state school, and the independent school pays the rest.

“We have always been open to discussing jointly funded places or other open-access approaches that might work, opening up our schools even more, providing new life chances and taking further pressure off state schools.

“It is encouraging that this poll shows such high levels of support for such a collaborative, positive measure – including amongst Labour voters.”

Mike Buchanan, Executive Director of HMC, said:

“This survey reveals a remarkable gulf between the Labour party’s official policy to abolish or punitively tax independent schools and the views of those who voted Labour just two years ago.

“It also underlines the public belief that parents should be free to make choices for their children, including paying for their child’s education rather than asking the state to do so.

“It is striking that the findings suggest the public is in no mood to uproot a valued national asset, and many would like to see the benefits offered by independent schools made even more widely available.

“This a view driven by common sense and compassion rather than ideology. All politicians would do well to heed it.”

Mrs Boulton’s speech comes as teachers from across the sectors demonstrate their lack of support for harming independent schools.

Stephen Spriggs, Head of Education, William Clarence Education, said:

“Eton and Harrow seem to be the poster boys (and whipping boys) of independent education right now and a catch all term for all schools.  In reality they are 2 names out of 1400 schools in the UK charging fees.  The reality of the market right now is that there is trouble and many schools are struggling.  

“The clientele of independent schools is not just “wealthy elite” but vast majority are hard working middle class parents making real sacrifices elsewhere.

“Its a clear vote winner that hasn’t been thought through properly, what happens to all the kids in Independent schools?  The state system is already at breaking point -then thoughts of other kids need rehomed bringing the standard down even further.  

“Is it the governments decision who can opt for private products or not, are they closing down BUPA and NUFFIELD also as private providers, or SKY and VIRGIN as it should be BBC only.?  

“Imposing more measure to squeeze schools will harm education – close more doors of schools and create a big burden on funds.”

angela rayner thumbnailAngela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commenting ahead of a speech by the chair of the UK’s main private schools association, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said:

“Boris Johnson has broken his own election promise to rethink the tax privileges enjoyed by private schools, while the vast majority of children still face the impact of Tory cuts on their own education.

“Where the Tories have failed, the next Labour government will act, using our first Budget to immediately end the tax breaks gifted to private schools and reinvesting that money in our schools to improve the lives of all children, regardless of their background. We will end the absurd situation where every state school pays business rates but schools like Eton do not.

“It is wrong that children’s life chances are determined by how wealthy their parents are, and we want a country where everyone can reach their potential. That is why our Social Justice Commission will work to make our education system fairer through the integration of private schools. Labour will put people before privilege and ensure that every child gets the best education, no matter how wealthy their family is.”

A survey of more than 5,000 teachers who take part in TeacherTapp polls found only 9% wanted to ban independent schools outright (weighted poll to ensure it is representative)

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,016 GB adults online between between 6th and 8th September 2019. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of all GB adults by age, gender, region and social grade. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The voting decisions of respondents in the 2017 general election was captured in the poll

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