After yesterday’s vote at the Labour Party Conference on the integration of private schools into the state sector, Warden of the Dean Close Foundation, Emma Taylor, writes:

“The newspapers and other media outlets have leapt enthusiastically on the news that the Labour Party will be adopting as official policy the ‘integration’ of all private schools into the public sector.

There is no doubt at all that some of the motives behind this policy are good ones; who can argue against the merits of increased social mobility, equal treatment of young people regardless of their background and wealth, enhanced educational provision for all and the improvement of life opportunities for children who start life with disadvantages?

The question is about how this should be achieved, and the proposal made by the Labour Party is fraught with problems. Calculations about what sums would be raised by a putative application of VAT to school fees make wildly optimistic assumptions about how many families would continue to pay such fees, for example, and little effort has been made to consider the impact on local state schools of such a move, not to mention the issues of human rights, freedom of choice and the legality of the state seizing the assets of charities.

The intentions may be good but the impact could be entirely the reverse of what is intended, putting additional pressure on state-funded schools at a time when they are already creaking under financial pressures.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the union ASCL, which represents Heads in both state and independent sectors, has written an excellent piece in this week’s Times Educational Supplement which perfectly encapsulates the issues:

Here at Dean Close, we know that parents have a choice about whether to pay school fees, and if so to whom; we are very conscious of the need to do the very best for every child currently in our care, but also to strive to open our doors wider, engage in the sharing of best practice, resources and ideas with our local state school colleagues, and encourage a spirit of humility and service in our pupils.

Initiatives such as the Cheltenham Education Partnership, in which the state and independent schools in the town come together to seek the very best for all pupils in our schools, no matter what their background, and the major fundraising campaign we are undertaking to support places for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at Dean Close are far more collaborative ways to achieve these ideals.

We have good and positive conversations with our local state school Heads and I have never met one who said that the best way to resolve the pressures in their schools was to abolish ours. On the contrary, we can see many ways of working together for the mutual benefit of all our pupils. I hope reason and collaboration will prevail over ideological posturing and sound bites.”