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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Labour's plan to transform the relationship between state and private schools

Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, has today delivered a major speech announcing Labour’s plan to recast the relationship between state and private schools. He set out how, if elected in May the next Labour government will break down the ‘corrosive divide’ in education by making £700 million currently received by private schools in business rates relief conditional on them meeting minimum standards of partnership with the state sector and ending exclusive private school competitions in extracurricular activities, such as sport and debating. In a speech at Walthamstow Academy– a member of the state and private school partnership United Learning– Mr Hunt also said that only Labour is serious about breaking down the barriers which hold our country back.

Tristram Hunt, said: "There can be little doubt that Britain is an increasingly divided country. I want to talk about one of those sources of division within British life. A divide that has become emblematic of a country run for the benefit of the privileged few not the many. The divide between private and state education. If we are to prosper as a country, we need to be a more equal country. If we are to make the most of the wealth of talent that exists in every school and every community, we need to give every child a chance. And if we are to be a country which works for most people, we need to break down the divisions in our school system with concerted, collaborative and co-ordinated action from the entire English educational landscape - including the private sector. I know I am not the first to say this. We have a Prime Minister who makes a virtue merely of pointing out this divide exists. But the crucial difference is this: I mean it."

He pointed out the extent of private school dominance in a range of fields including access to top universities, professions and elite sport – accounting for 41 per cent of Team GB Olympic medallists. Mr Hunt said: "It baffles me that we can have private schools loaning a sports pitch to the local comprehensive once or twice a year yet completely refusing to play them at football or opening up their halls and amphitheatres yet unwilling to engage in a debating competition. Social enterprises such as Debate Mate have shown how rewarding and relatively easy it is to set up debate clubs in high disadvantage state schools. And it is hardly difficult to join the local sports leagues. So I see absolutely no reason why private schools should persist with their exclusive private-only competitions. We would look to include regular participation in competitive extra-curricular activities with state schools as part of this settlement."

He also criticised most private schools who he said are not doing enough to earn generous state subsidies through Business Rates Relief worth £700 million over the course of a parliament, as well as benefitting from other tax breaks and qualified teachers trained by the state. Citing figures showing just 3 per cent of private schools sponsor an academy, while only a further 5 per cent loan teaching staff to state schools, and a mere third share facilities, he will add: "The only possible answer to whether they earn their £700m subsidy is a resounding and unequivocal ‘no’. Over the last few years we have seen the limitations of asking private schools politely. So the next government will say to them: step up and play your part. Earn your keep. Because the time you could expect something for nothing is over."

Labour will legislate to make Business Rates Relief payable only when schools meet a tough new Schools Partnership Standard which will require them to:

  • Provide qualified teachers in specialist subjects to state schools. 
  • Share expertise to help state school students get into top universities 
  • Run joint extra-curricular programmes where the state schools is an equal partner so children can mix and sectors learn from each other 

Mr Hunt said: I realise that to some this may seem an unnecessarily tough test. But that is not because I want to penalise private education but because I want to make sure we break down the barriers holding Britain back. I passionately believe we deserve an education system where the majority of young people enjoy the same access to excellence as the privileged 7 per cent; where disadvantaged pupils no longer feel any anxiety or insecurity at aspiring towards success because they feel success belongs to them; and where our children experience equality of opportunity rather than just learn it is one of our core values. But most of all I want us to become a country where we no longer feel the need to point out how few state educated members there are in the top universities, professions and sports teams because that description simply no longer rings true. That is the prize we are chasing with this new partnership. And believe me: clawing back business rate relief will be a poor consolation if we do not bring it about."

Labour's new education settlement:
  • As a condition for continued business rate relief, state-subsidised private schools will be required to form a hard-edged partnership with a state school, or consortium of schools. New legislation will be passed to amend the 1988 Local Government Act making business rate relief conditional to hard-edged partnership. The Education Act and the Independent Schools Regulations will also be amended to establish the criteria upon which private schools will be judged.
  • Private schools will have to demonstrate to their accredited inspectorate that they are participating in a meaningful partnership with a state school.
  • Non-compliance or failure to demonstrate effective partnership will result in private schools losing their eligibility for business rate relief, incurring a cost that could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
  • Examples of effective partnerships already exist, with a small minority of private and state school heads leading effective collaborations.
  • United Learning, the umbrella group for Walthamstow Academy, is a leading partnership arrangement between state and private schools.

Responding Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "What Britain can learn is that high-performing systems internationally focus on high quality public education rather than the public/private division which characterises education here. If education is a public good, which is certainly what we in the NUT believe, all children and young people should have access to a good local school irrespective of parental social class and disposable income."

Continuing Ms Blower said: "It is certainly true that there is a very great deal‎ of excellent practice in the maintained sector from which colleagues in the independent sector could learn. OECD research shows that when exam results take into account social class and background, students in state schools succeed as well as their peers in independent schools. Whilst the independent sector retains a privileged tax and charity status it is incumbent upon schools in that sector to share their resources with other local schools."