Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt faced a backlash from none other than the headmaster of his old school following his comments about private schools.
Mr Beard, headmaster of the University College School in Hampstead which boasts Dr Hunt as an alumnus, called on the former pupil to revisit his old school so he could see “a diverse pupil population from all creeds and backgrounds, with £1m per annum granted for fee assistance, the vast majority for 100 per cent bursaries”.
UCS proudly boasts on its website of the number of collaborations with schools in the state sector. He accused the shadow Education Secretary of underestimating the role independent schools play in the community, telling the Independent: “If Mr Hunt wanted to tastelessly quantify the value of public benefit that UCS generates every year then he would find that it far outstrips the value of tax relief that UCS receives through its charitable status. And UCS is not alone in this regard.”
And in a damaging blow to the party, Mr Beard attacked the mindset of Labour, saying “Rather than rely on independent schools to solve the issues for the 93 per cent of children who are educated in the state sector, isn’t it time for Labour to come up with some new, helpful initiatives rather than what some might deem an offensive bigotry?”
Figures quoted by the Independent Schools Council yesterday showed the huge financial benefit private schools contribute to the country’s finances, not only from the £4.7 billion they pay in tax but £4 billion in further savings by taking children out of the state school system.
In a speech yesterday, Mr Hunt said that the state and private sector results and facilities was “emblematic of a country run for the benefit of the privileged few, not the many.”
He announced a policy whereby private schools would have to meet new targets set by a Labour government in order to qualify for tax breaks which their charitable status permits them. This would include sharing facilities with state schools in the local area and hosting sports events.
In addition, all private schools would be required to sign a pledge to provide qualified teachers to help deliver specialist knowledge to state schools and assist in helping state schools get disadvantaged pupils into top universities.
But Mr Beard said threatening the loss of tax exemptions “removes any pretence of encouraging those schools to play their part in society: instead they could charge whatever they wished, not bother about bursaries, not worry about pupil diversity and not share their facilities with the local community”.
There are currently about 2000 independent schools in the UK, most of which have entrance exams would be pupils have to sit to ensure an appropriate level of learning.
The popularity of private schools, and the price of fees, has been increasing since grammar schools were scrapped by many local authorities.