Last night (9th February 2013 – 9:00pm) John Prescott published an article on the Daily Mirror website. The article focuses on public / independent schools, and argues that the state is effectively subsidising students at those schools.
Never has a more hate-ridden education article been published so entirely lacking in analytical content – John Prescott at his best.
The sub-headline of the article reads as follows:
“Public schools are classed as charities and are therefore entitled to tax relief, so every single taxpayer pays about £3.30 a year to effectively sponsor a public school boy.”
The article is effectively a rant at the effectiveness of the Independent school system – arguing that it’s wrong that the 7% of the UK student population educated privately go on to take about half of the places available at Oxford and Cambridge. He draws on research by the Sutton Trust, although neglects to say precisely which research paper. Sloppy as always.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the overall sentiment. Independent schools offer a better education, better facilities, and advanced life prospects. You can’t actually blame parents for sending their children to private schools, in fact polling results consistently show that most parents would send their children to private schools if they could afford to. In one poll only 25% of parents said they would not send their child to an independent school if they could afford to. A clear lack of faith in state provision.
Labour have often cried that we should be working to bring the standards of the worst up to those of the best. Working not towards the lowest common denominator but towards the highest is, and should be, of the utmost importance. In education we must strive to make the state sector as good as that of the independent.
Comments such as those from Prescott couldn’t be any less helpful. Yes he is correct in saying that via charity tax breaks the government effectively subsidises the independent education sector to the tune of £100million per year; but that’s only a drop in the ocean compared to the actual cost of education provided. Roughly 3-4% of income to independent schools comes from these charity tax breaks, for which schools must provide demonstrable community benefit. Often this means community access to sports facilities or the like – a bargain at a fraction of the cost the government would have to pay to provide these services for itself.
What’s more, Prescott has entirely failed to mention the fact that while the state may be giving an effectively sponsoring an independent school pupil to the tune of £3.30, they are also not providing state education despite the parents paying full tax with which they would be fully entitled to demand a state-funded education. Nor does he take account of the fact that many independent school pupils are foreign nationals, essentially bringing foreign money into the country.
The education budget is currently approximately £56bn. If parents of those in the independent sector suddenly decided to demand their legal right to a free state education the government would have to increase the education budget by at least 7% (not even allowing for the necessity to build new schools and expand existing ones to cope with the influx). This would mean finding an extra £4bn of public funds.
I’d say that a £100million subsidy was an extraordinarily cost-effective means of saving £4bn.
But no, Prescott wants to slash that subsidy, force up school fees for parents who send their children to independent schools (essentially punishing them for wanting to do the best by their children).
If he really wants to encourage social mobility and academic excellence from the state sector Prescott should stop taking the easy route of lambasting independent schools, and focus on how to make state schools better – something he’s incredibly quiet on.
The reintroduction of grammar schools, the further liberalisation of the state sector, continuation of Gove’s academic reforms – these are the methods by which we make state provision better, not by making the best schools suffer.
This issue is tweeted with hashtag – #poshboytax