Would the Labour Party abolish private schools? And what would happen if they did?

Would the Labour Party abolish private schools? And what would happen if they did?

Since private schools are often seen as the preserve of the privileged, some parents are wondering whether private education would have a future if the UK has a change of government. The question’s becoming even more relevant as it looks evermore possible that the Conservative Party will lose seats – and power – at the next general election.

As a result, families are considering whether a private education is the right choice for their children. If independent schools were abolished in the near future, it would mean a lot of upheaval and disruption to their education.

With Labour sitting on the centre-left of the political spectrum, are these concerns founded? Would a Labour government abolish private schools?

Of course, we can’t know for sure whether Labour would close independent schools, but let’s weigh up the evidence and arguments.

Are private schools the preserve of the political right?

Eton college pupils walking down a street

Private schools have long enjoyed a high profile in the UK’s governing society. In fact, 20 prime ministers in Britain’s history famously received their education at one public school, political heavy-weight Eton – including five Conservative prime ministers in the post-war years.

In 2019, the Sutton Trust found that 41% of Tory MPs had had an independent education. And with almost two-thirds of Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak’s current Cabinet having been privately educated, there are plenty of influential interested parties who would have an opinion on private education in today’s school sector.

Stats like this give a certain impression of how political power, personality and influence work in the UK. But not all public-school boys (and girls) are cast in the mould of Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg. There are plenty of MPs with opposing ideas and ideals who also attended independent schools.

For example, landslide labour vote-winner of 1997 Tony Blair went to Fettes College in Edinburgh. Surprisingly, the former socialist Labour leader and one-time contender for the country’s premiership Jeremy Corbyn even went to a private school, studying at Castle House preparatory school. In fact, the Sutton Trust report of 2019 found that 14% of Labour MPs at the time had attended fee-paying schools.

And current leader of the labour party, Kier Starmer, attended fee-paying Reigate Grammar School. However, it’s important to note that the school became independent while he was already a student there, so his parents were exempt from paying fees.

In other words, there are plenty on the political left who have benefitted from an independent education. Private schools aren’t just reserved for those with views on the political right.

Are days numbered for private schools?

Currently, around 600,000 children in the UK are educated in independent schools. Recent Labour policies, such as those developed under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, have included the abolishment of public schools. This was voted for by Labour party members in 2019.

However, if private schools were closed today, the government would have to find state school places for an enormous number of children.

Funding such a large number of additional school places would be no mean feat for a country expected to be enduring many other pressures in 2025, as economic growth may only just be returning to the UK following the recession.

However, under the direction of Kier Starmer, these former Labour policies have been dialled back substantially. In fact, Starmer insists that his party would not abolish private schools if Labour enter power at the next general election.

When interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Starmer even went so far as to say that he believes there are many good private schools, and that they contribute a lot to the country.

Since Starmer’s brand is built almost entirely upon integrity and honesty, there’s currently no reason to doubt he’d honour this promise.

What does the future hold for independent education?

Two school children reading in a library

Changing times for private schools

Instead of abolishing public schools, it’s expected that the Labour Party would strive to level-up the education system. In other words, they’d work to improve the quality of state education rather than eradicate the parts of the education system that are excelling.

As such, it seems likely that private schools would not be closed or integrated into the state system. Instead, Labour say they would seek to remove aspects that they see as giving private schools an unfair advantage.

The main change that a Labour government would make is removing the charitable status granted to many independent schools. Charitable status brings benefits, such as allowing private schools to make vast savings on their bills because it means they aren’t required to pay VAT. This is seen as unfair by many parents and teachers, because state schools aren’t eligible for the status. It means publicly funded schools currently pay more for the same resources than their private school counterparts.

In scrapping charitable status for independent schools, Labour argues the additional tax revenue gained from the private schools sector could be invested in state education, bringing improvements for all children, and the country as a whole.

The effect of removing charitable status from private schools

But of course, if private schools’ option to operate as a charity is removed there would be an impact on the families of children who attend private school.

The charitable status that many private schools currently enjoy enables them to avoid paying taxes such as VAT and business rates, keeping costs lower. Removal of this status would increase operating costs for private schools. And that’s likely to translate into higher school fees for parents. In other words, fees could rise. And would certainly need to include VAT at 20%.

Almost 6% of the total number of school pupils are educated in the private system. It’s estimated that a school fee increase of this kind could mean the families of 90,000 children would no longer be able to afford the fees to allow their children to continue at their current school.

However, even if Labour win power in the next general election, and make the changes to the law, it could be several years before new regulations come into force. Snap changes won’t happen overnight: schools and parents are likely to have ample time to prepare.

Financial Planning means preparing for the future

A small girl with a piggy bank

We always advise parents who are thinking of sending their child or children to an independent school to make proper financial plans. Choosing to pay school fees is a long term financial commitment, and can represents up to 14 years of school fees per child.

With the possibility that the cost of independent school may rise significantly before your child has completed their education, parents need to know they’re making the right decisions for their family and their finances.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone will be affected by VAT being applied to school fees. For parents who own their own business, it could be that the effects on school fees are negligible – after all, if you pay their child’s fees through the company, you won’t be paying VAT. If this could be a possibility for your family, it’s worth getting guidance on how to make changes to the way your child’s school fees are paid.

We always advise parents that a private education shouldn’t be thought of as a monthly expense, but as an investment. As such, it’s essential to take proper advice before you invest, and regularly throughout your investment period.

Give us a call to understand how we can help stabilise your financial position in times of change, so you can give your child an amazing education without fearing the effects of uncertainty around school fees.