© FT montage/PA

A plan by the Labour party to charge VAT on fees for private school education continues to trigger passionate arguments on both sides of the debate.

Financial Times readers left hundreds of comments beneath this article on advance fee plans and nearly a thousand posts on this article on proposals to tax boarding school fees. Some commenters said adding VAT at 20 per cent to fees would break the “class ceiling” on education for the first time but others worried that it was simply “another way to tax the middle classes”.

A range of these responses are published below. Join the conversation by sharing your views in the comment section.

It should be a tax ‘deduction’

Other countries you get a tax deduction on education! — Black Knight

Politics of envy

This move by Labour is the policy of envy. Political posturing to move against some of the finest educational institutions in this land. All this will do is drop about 30 per cent of fee paying parents into the state school net and any savings claimed will be nullified from the get-go. It is counter productive. These schools remain largely self funded and not a drain on the public purse. Political dogma at its worse. — doug cam

Why I’m voting for Labour

One of the reasons I will be voting Labour. Perhaps you haven’t had enough of posh boys and girls from the ‘finest educational institutions’ ruining, sorry ‘running’ the country? If not you vote for them. — critical mass

Improve the state school system

Perhaps the engaged middle classes priced out of private schools will work harder to improve the state school system, then. Having a two-tier education system in which the richer parents look down on the rest is not the best way to improve national education standards for all.

I was privately educated, but am horrified to see that my lower-tier former school now boasts a polo team and fully functioning dedicated theatre building among other things — and still sends me constant begging letters for donations. Frankly I’d be quite happy to go down the Finnish route and abolish private schools altogether and work on making the state education system functional for all children. — Apis

‘Wealthy charities’

As a product of a fee paying school myself, I would expect to support fee paying schools. But it seems crazy as a taxpayer for the government to be only spending £5,000 per pupil per year at state schools, and apparently subsidising private school pupils £7,000 per pupil per year through the various tax breaks on offer to what are (often very wealthy) ‘charities’. — CityDwella

The enemy of aspiration

So I pay my taxes, decide not to go on holidays, drive a 17-year-old car to put my kids in a better school and then this. Labour are the enemy of aspiration. — Quietly Confident

Join the waiting list

I have reached out to three local secondary schools about intra-year entry post introduction of VAT for year 8 — one responded (at least!) and advised me to join the waiting list (no clue as to how many already on it). The other two have failed to respond.

You would assume that the Boroughs are making provision for the influx but then again it seems not. Dismal. — supersk

I’m in favour

I’m all in favour even though both my children went to fee-paying schools throughout:
1. The schools themselves don’t act like charities. Less than 1 per cent do anything to help their local community / state schools.
2. The gap between private and state spending per pupil has doubled since 2010. The IFS has estimated this measure will raise a net £1.6bn to be spent directly on closing this gap (a bit).
3. Schools currently make a surplus on education (which they then spend on facilities etc). Any VAT could largely be absorbed within this surplus if they chose to.
4. Fees for private schools have risen by over half in real terms in the last 20 years but demand has remained the same. Fears of large numbers leaving the sector are therefore highly unlikely. — KingCanute

A form of social signalling

Luxury goods attract VAT — buy a Rolex and you’ll pay VAT on it. Why is private education any different? It’s just another form of social signalling. — Blazmo

Should we tax higher education too?

What is the rationale for taxing private schools but not higher education? Even if you wanted to consider undergraduate courses an essential service provided or subsidized by the state, this doesn’t apply to all higher education courses. Why should an expensive Master of Business Administration be exempt from VAT, for example, but not private secondary schools?

The truth is that this policy lacks a rigorous theoretical and legal justification, and risks being counterproductive because there is the very real risk that the extra tax revenue will be more than offset by the additional spend required to fund all the extra places at state schools, from students moving from private to state because the costs have become too high. — YetAnotherInvestor

Will state schools get the extra funding?

Will the £1.5bn be ringfenced for state schools? I doubt it. — RRod

Private is not necessarily better

The assumption of many posters is that private is better. It can actually be a crippling social burden leaving young adults stuck in a small social ghetto when they leave school and enter the real world. Doubly so if they have been to single sex institutions.

No doubt this is the unsaid aim of some parents making the choicest many others don’t see the future problems they are creating for their loved ones. On any university campus the private-school cohort stand out like sore thumbs and stick together in and out of class. Many young people — especially men in my experience — really struggle with the transition beyond school. — Ann of green gables

Grammar schools

Time to bring back grammar schools — Kando

Another way to tax the middle classes

Nice, another way to punish the UK middle class. How dare they pay for schooling and not burden the state schools. At least this will push thousands of families over the edge financially so they have to move their kids to state, further drawing on those resources and offsetting much of the tax gains.

It’s important we don’t allow these people to have things to aspire to in life — working and saving their money to send their children to these places is outrageous.— Hide behind irony

*Comments have been edited for length and style

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article