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First private school to close down ahead of Labour’s tax raid

Alton School in Hampshire announces it will shut this summer following dwindling pupil numbers in recent years
Alton School in Hampshire announces it will shut this summer following dwindling pupil numbers in recent years

Are you considering taking your child out of private school? Tell us about your experience by emailing money@telegraph.co.uk

Sir Keir Starmer’s planned tax raid on private education has claimed its first victim with the closure of a school where parents faced paying thousands of pounds extra every year.

Families with children at Alton School in Hampshire, which last week announced it will shut this summer, have blamed the Labour Party’s tax policies for forcing parents to remove their children and place them in the state sector.

The school said in a statement on its website that “adverse political and economic factors” have drained pupil numbers leaving it “unviable” to run.

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Classroom doors at the £18,000-a-year Catholic school, which caters for 370 pupils, will close for the final time at the end of the academic year.

Closure announcement
The school said the closure followed 'adverse political and economic factors'

The school has suffered from dwindling pupil numbers in recent years, but the likelihood of a Sir Keir Starmer victory in the general election is said to have exacerbated the issue.

Parents said the likelihood of a Labour victory seeing the plans enacted was the “final nail in the coffin”.

Labour has doubled down on its commitment to apply VAT “straight away” on private school fees if it wins the keys to No.10 in July.

Parents and headteachers across the country fear the 20pc tax will spark an exodus of pupils as families struggle to afford fees. The hike could have added as much as £3,600 to Alton’s existing fees.

A parent of two pupils at the school said: “Labour’s VAT plan has clearly had a pretty terrible impact on intake for September.

“It seems like it’s been the final nail in the coffin. It’s been a topic of conversation for quite some time, and with Labour looking more and more likely to get in it’s become more relevant.

“I know a decent proportion of parents are now looking at the state sector.”

Pupils, parents and staff were told of the impending closure last week as headmaster Andrew Reeve informed them “it is with a very heavy heart that we cannot continue”.

Mr Reeve was hired last year in an attempt to steady the ship at the Alton, but a letter from trustees admits this “has not translated into higher pupil numbers”.

Trustees had “explored the possibility of a sale to another educational establishment” but no deal could be struck, tolling the bell for the school’s future.

Mr Reeve says the news is 'extremely upsetting and disappointing'
Mr Reeve says the news is 'extremely upsetting and disappointing'

Accounts for the year to August 2022 show that Alton’s income stood at £4.87m and its spending at £4.77m.

Alton’s nursery, which takes on youngsters from the six months of age, will also close.

Sherfield School, 11 miles north, has jumped at the chance to bring in new pupils. On Friday, it held an open day for families impacted by Alton’s upcoming closure and published a statement on its website saying it has “some availability in most year groups”.

Annual fees cost up to £21,690 a year for the eldest pupils, making it around £3,000 more expensive than Alton.

There are fears other schools in the country will follow the same fate as Alton, causing floods of pupils to swamp state schools, of which many are already oversubscribed. There are five state primary schools in east Hampshire and two secondary schools.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), up to 40,000 children will be pushed out of private schools and into state schools as a result of Labour’s plans – at a cost of up to £300m per year to the taxpayer.

Mr Starmer, however, has committed to bring in his plan immediately should he be in Downing Street come July 5.

The VAT charge is expected to raise £1.6bn to spend on a series of state education pledges.

Alton’s impending closure has prompted an outpouring of sadness and concern among parents, prospective parents and former pupils.

“This is very sad – it seemed as if it was a very nurturing school with some lovely teaching staff,” said one.

Writing on the Mumsnet messaging board, one anonymous parent at the school said: “A message was sent out today saying that the school is closing at the end of this summer term. Very sad for all teachers and pupils concerned, especially those doing GCSEs and A levels next year.”

Another parent added: “The letter to families said enrolment for September was too low for the school to remain viable. It’s a while since my DD [darling daughter] left but we have very fond memories, they had some superb staff.”

In his letter to parents, headmaster Mr Reeve said the news is “extremely upsetting and disappointing”. He said the school will do all it can to help parents find new school places for their children.