New Times,
New Thinking.

The great private school con

They no longer have a stranglehold on Oxbridge and would lose tax breaks under Labour. So what is elite education really selling?

At the Labour Party conference in Liverpool in October, the Independent Schools Council hosted a forlorn drinks reception: not one of the more than 40 MPs showed up. “We are not the enemy,” one private school headmaster complained to a sympathetic Daily Mail. But if Labour does win the next general election, it has committed to removing tax breaks on business rates and 20 per cent VAT on private school fees – raising £1.6bn to be invested in state schools. On top of this, Starmer’s cabinet (as it stands) would be the most state-educated in history – with only 13 per cent having attended private school (against Rishi Sunak’s 63 per cent). Can elite education survive – and cling on to its charitable status?

In this week’s audio long read – the last in this series – the New Statesman’s features editor Melissa Denes attends three school open days to understand how these winds of change might affect them. She also follows the money, calculating that – allowing for tax breaks – the average taxpayer subsidises an Eton schoolboy at a far higher rate than a state school one. As the gaps in spending between the two sectors grow, and society strives to become fairer, will an expensive education evolve into a luxury service rather than a charitable concern?

Written and read by Melissa Denes.

This article originally appeared in the 10-16 November edition of the New Statesman; you can read the text version here.

If you enjoyed listening to this article, you might also enjoy The decline of the British university by Adrian Pabst.

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