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Private Schools

Volume 589: debated on Monday 1 December 2014

10. If she will make an assessment of the public benefit contributed by schools in the private sector. (906339)

Public benefit tests are a matter for the Charity Commission. Schools in the independent sector make a significant contribution to the UK economy estimated at £9.5 billion per annum. Many have partnerships with state schools to share resources and teachers, drawing on the strengths of each member school to improve outcomes for all children across the partnership. One example is the Wimbledon schools partnership between King’s College school and over 20 state schools. Independent schools also act as academy sponsors, and 11 have been approved to do so.

Does the Secretary of State therefore reject Sir Michael Wilshaw’s assessment that public schools offer the state sector only crumbs from the table?

Sir Michael Wilshaw and I have had a number of discussions on many different subjects, including this one. I point out to the hon. Gentleman, as I would to all Labour Members, that this is happening already. We would like more partnerships to be growing, but there are already plenty of partnerships and collaborations between state and private schools. I wonder whether he would agree with Andrew Halls, the headmaster of King’s College school in Wimbledon, who recently said:

“The independent schools are under a bit more threat than we’ve been for a long time. The state sector has really improved.”

That is what happens with four years of a coalition Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one element that lies behind the debate on the public benefit of private schools is the need to ensure that pupils in the state sector have an ever-increasing chance of receiving the best academic education? Does she also agree that grammar schools play a significant role in providing this opportunity and that their work across the country should be suitably valued?

At the heart of what my right hon. Friend is asking—I completely agree with it—is that we want every child in this country to go to a good or outstanding local school. I welcome diversity in our schools system. I also welcome the fact that, after four years of this Government, over 800,000—heading towards 1 million—more children are in good or outstanding schools receiving a life-transforming education to prepare them for a life in modern Britain.

A prep school in Hampshire that claims £180,000 tax relief just for showing its pupils’ art work on the walls; a ladies college in Yorkshire that claims £110,000 tax relief a year while profiting from renting out school facilities: enough is enough. Will the Secretary of State now join Anthony Seldon of Wellington college, head teachers at the United Learning trust and the majority of the British people in supporting Labour’s plans to break down the barriers in English education and require private schools to work alongside state schools to share best practice and raise attainment across the country?

The hon. Gentleman appears to have answered his own question—in fact, his own policy—by pointing out the successful collaborative partnerships between private schools and state schools going on across the country. His previous school has decided that it will not be building any buildings or unveiling any statues to the hon. Gentleman any time soon. He ought to think about the Labour Uncut website, which said:

“It is not so much that Tristram Hunt has the wrong policies for education; it is that he appears to have none.”

Last week’s announcement has not changed that.

This is the politics of the status quo. Once upon a time the Prime Minister said—[Interruption.] I thought Members on the Government Benches would want to listen to their Prime Minister. He said he wanted to end the “educational apartheid” between private and state schools. Now we have a Secretary of State afraid to take on the vested interests, happy to allow £140 million of tax relief a year without demanding partnership and progress. Is this a principled stand against our policy or, like her flip-flopping opposition to gay marriage, is she just waiting for more people to get in touch before she changes her mind?

The hon. Gentleman has shown yet again by his question that he has no vision or plan for education in this country. He would be letting down the children of this country were he ever to be allowed anywhere near the Department for Education. In a recent GQ Magazine interview he said:

“But what I have found challenging is that you can be so busy without achieving much, meeting upon meeting and then I think, ‘Where is the outcome? What have I achieved?’ Sometimes you can tick boxes but not feel you have made progress.”

That, so far, is the story of Labour’s education policy.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there are outstanding private schools throughout the country, such as University College school in Hampstead and St Mary’s school in Calne in my constituency, which make a gigantic contribution to the local society, but nearly always under the radar, nearly always by secret means and through a thousand different links across the community? Those could never be judged or counted by any organisation; they are none the less to be encouraged.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The issue with the recent policy announcement is that much of the collaboration and partnership between schools, whether private and state or within state schools, is already happening. I have already mentioned that 11 independent schools were approved as academy sponsors. Last month we announced that 18 new primary independent/state school partnerships had been awarded DFE funding, so this is already happening. As usual, Labour is late to the party with zero policy.