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Kent private schools hit back at Labour's 'abolish Eton' policy

Private schools in Kent have slammed the Labour party's proposal to scrap such institutions.

At the party conference in Brighton, the 'abolish Eton' motion was passed overwhelmingly.

Labour plans to abolish private schools
Labour plans to abolish private schools

Delegates voted to integrate "elite" schools into the state sector which would mean withdrawing charitable status and removing public subsidies and tax privileges.

In a major policy shift, a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would “challenge the elite privilege of private schools” and claimed that “the ongoing existence of private schools is incompatible with Labour’s pledge to promote social justice”.

It said the party would include in its next manifesto “a commitment to integrate all private schools into the state sector”.

Ben Charles, headmaster of King's senior school, Rochester, said: "We agree with the Independent Schools Council (ISC) statement which, in response to the Labour Party's proposal, has said, 'Tearing down independent schools would not improve our education system'.

"The threatened 'integration' of independent schools into the maintained sector would put additional strain on already hard-pressed state schools and at considerable cost to the taxpayer, without doing anything to improve the educational chances for hundreds and thousands of children.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

“King's Rochester, which has been in existence since 604AD and is integral to the local community it serves, fully supports the objective of creative and fulfilling partnerships between independent and state schools such as sharing our sports facilities alongside other community outreach programmes in which it has been involved for a number of years."

Labour activitists decided to target Eton, Boris Johnson's old school as well as other elite, private schools in England ahead of a likely general election.

Francie Healy, headmaster of the Bethany School, Cranbrook, was stronger in his criticism, saying: "I think it's absolutely insane. It just doesn't make sense, the numbers don't add up, it's false economics.

"From our own perspective, we pay £1.2 million in tax each year as a result of the employees we have, our pupils save the exchequer £2.1m and all our staff are local employees who contribute £3m to the local economy. We also pay £1m in pension contributions.

"This seems like misplaced envy and inverted snobbery.

"I think it's absolutely insane. It just doesn't make sense, the numbers don't add up, it's false economics..." — Francie Healy, headmaster at Bethany School

"[Corbyn] shouldn't be focusing on the seven per cent of pupils going to independent schools but rather increasing the opportunities available for the other 93%.

"That means investing more in education and making sure class sizes are smaller so the wellbeing of pupils, in addition to education, is targeted properly."

The headmaster of Dover College, Gareth Doodes, added: "Although some schools may seem elitist, every school is not Eton. Schools like mine rarely make a surplus, and we subsidise pupils through financial support to the tune of over 12.5% of total income, over £715,000 for Dover College alone.

"Dover College pays in excess of £800,000 in PAYE contributions a year, adds £3.7m to the local economy and saves the government £1.26m by day pupils not taking up places at local schools.

"We believe in parental choice, and many of our parents make enormous sacrifices to send their children to my school. Politicians should be celebrating what schools like mine contribute to society and local families, not looking to abolish us and pour scorn on our mission."

Paul Savage, headteacher of Gad's Hill School in Higham
Paul Savage, headteacher of Gad's Hill School in Higham

The headteacher of Gad's Hill School Paul Savage said: "My feeling is we all want to see more funding for state education but the proposals shouldn't conflate small schools like us with some of the big names like Eton," he said. "It just worries me that policy makers can be so unaware of the state of independent education in this country.

"The elitism that you have heard spoken about in the debate just doesn't ring true here."

He said parents often made sacrifices to bring their children to Gad's, and had various reasons for sending their children to the school, adding: "Perhaps they come from us from a state school or one of the grammars where pressure to get results has overtaken everything else, or their child has a level of anxiety in a bigger class at a state school .

"I would invite anybody from the Labour party to visit us because they would see that immediately."

Mr Savage said it was a shame other good proposals included in Labour's education plans - such as scrapping university tuition fees - were being forgotten amidst the furore over the private school policy, and said new thinking was needed to redress inequalities within the state sector.

He added: "I think a level playing field is the aspiration but there are other more pressing cases of inequality than our friendly little village community."

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