Jeremy Corbyn announced on Thursday 6th April 2017 that a Labour government would introduce charging of VAT on private school fees. The fund generated, estimated to be about £1.3 billion per year, would be used to provide free meals for all primary school pupils. Currently, free meals are given to 5 and 6 year olds at a cost of about £800 million per year. Extending free meals to older primary school children is estimated to cost a further £1 billion per year.
Mr Corbyn said, at a launch event in Lancashire, “No child in the UK should go hungry at school.”
“By charging VAT on private school fees, the next Labour government will provide all primary school children with a free school meal, invest in our schools, and make sure no child is held back because of their background.”
The claim is that free meals will increase the health and educational performance of all children receiving them and advance their progress by two months.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary said, “The evidence from National Centre for Social Research and the IFS have both been quite clear that actually providing universal school meals at primary level will raise attainment.”
However, the benefits are disputed, even by one of the co-authors of the 2012 report upon which the claim is based. A conclusion reached by the authors was that more research was needed.
The Independent Schools Council (ISC), representing the majority of independent schools, claim that Labour’s proposals do not add up and would force some smaller schools to close.
The ISC general secretary Julie Robinson said: “A third of pupils at our schools are on reduced fees and are from families where both parents work hard to pay the fees.
“If this measure was introduced, smaller independent schools may close, driving more children back to be funded in the state system. 600,000 children are educated in independent schools, saving the taxpayer the cost of educating them.”
She also said that independent schools do a lot to support state schools; offering teaching staff, shared classrooms and sporting facilities.
Kevin Courtney, leader of the National Union of Teachers, is backing the Labour proposals indicating that teachers are well aware of the impact hunger has on their pupils’ concentration and capacity to learn.
Michael Gove, the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, has also suggested the idea of putting VAT on school fees recently. He would direct the additional funds for children in care. He questioned how prestigious independent schools could justify taking lucrative taxpayer-funded subsidies when they cater to the ‘global super-rich’.