Shadow education secretary threatened to take schools' tax breaks away unless they helped state-run counterparts
SHADOW education secretary Tristram Hunt got a “must try harder” verdict yesterday after unveiling a timid attempt to force private schools to contribute to society in return for billions in subsidies.
The privately taught Labour frontbencher, who hit headlines in February for crossing a picket line to deliver a lecture on Marx, threatened to strip some of the financial benefits enjoyed by fee-paying institutions that do nothing to “assist” taxpayer-funded neighbours.
Mr Hunt chose Walthamstow, east London, to unveil his Schools Partnership Standard — described by state education campaigners as “drivel.”
The shadow minister said his “hard-edged” policy would see private schools run summer schools, sponsor academies and coach poorer neighbours in return for their multibillion tax breaks.
Mr Hunt praised the supposed special powers of a private education, which he suggested could be seen in the number of top Establishment roles held by people private schools have taught.
He warned that they faced losing their cut of a £700 million-a-year business rates break if they did not share their secrets and resources with the state sector.
But Campaign for State Education spokesman Michael Pike dismissed the idea that private schools had something to teach taxpayer-funded neighbours.
“The whole idea of social mobility is drivel,” Mr Pike said. “What private schools have got is money, lavish facilities — and they select their children.
“The basic problem is financial and economic inequality — and private schools merely reinforce this.
“Most private schools are mediocre institutions that frankly parents are wasting their money on.
“But the really powerful ones are not going to abandon their raison d’etre — they exist in order to maintain and perpetuate privilege.”
He predicted: “They’ll simply put their fees up and say: ‘We’ll manage without the tax breaks’.”
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower agreed that private schools should be forced to share resources in return for their “privileged tax and charity status.”
But “when exam results take into account social class and background, students in state schools succeed as well as their peers in independent schools,” she said.