Ideologues playing politics with private schools

Labour's new education plans for private schools have been criticised for lacking substance. Emily Hohler reports.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, proposes to make private schools work harder for their charitable status.

They will be required to pass a new School Partnership Standard test to remain eligible for business rate relief (worth around £64,000 a year per school), offering services such as sponsoring academies, sharing teachers and staging joint sporting events.

I'm not saying it's the only answer, writes Hunt in The Daily Telegraph. But alongside our strategy for improving the quality of teachers and transforming our vocational education system, it "forms part of Labour's broader ambition to end the scandal of 1.6 million children being taught in schools that require improvement".

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Think again, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times. Sharing karate classes isn't going to make a difference, and "surreptitiously creating a few more grammar schools isn't going to address the problem either".

We need to focus our attention on the 90% of schools that are neither private nor grammar. The educational pessimists say that "parental poverty and lack of funds means state schools will never compete. This is rubbish." Some of our best state schools, including Grinling Gibbons in Deptford and Havelock Academy in Grimsby, are in the most deprived areas.

They succeed because they are ambitious for their pupils. "As Germany shows, creating an aspirational, flexible and rigorous state sector can make private schools redundant." Their results are so good that less than 1% of children attend private schools.

When I attended my grammar school in the 1950s and 1960s, we "would have laughed at the idea that private schools were in any way superior", says IanJack in The Guardian. Today, given the decline in state education, if Labour wanted more educational equality, it should promise to change the law so that private schools lose their charitable status altogether.

Fee rises would push the middle classes into the state sector, which they would then support. Of course, it doesn't dare. So instead we have "the pitiable sight of Labour making another of its small and puzzling sorties that neither damage the enemy nor inspire the friend".

I've had it with "ideologues playing politics with a state education system of which they have zero experience", says Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. Labour took an education system that wasn't broken and "fixed" it for ideological reasons.

Abolishing grammar schools only entrenched class privilege. The richer went private or moved to a good catchment area. Today the UK is "tumbling" down the international league tables.

And Tristram Hunt's "big new idea" is to attack the same "evil schools" to which so many prominent Labourites send their own children in order to "gain the selective advantage their party denies to children from less well-off families".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.