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Private school parents face black hole of ‘outstanding’ state schools

Labour Private School
Labour has pledged to end the VAT exemption for independent schools, which could add 20pc to fees as early as September - Labour Party

Parents forced to pull their children out of private schools as Labour’s VAT raid looms face a black hole of “outstanding” state schools in their local area.

In more than a dozen local authorities across England with a relatively high proportion of private schools, there are few state schools rated highly by Ofsted, according to Telegraph analysis.

It means parents facing potentially higher school fees under Labour will struggle to find alternative places for children at top local comprehensives in areas such as Shropshire, Somerset and Cambridgeshire.

Parents have also complained that places at high-ranking schools offering subjects taught predominantly in private institutions, such as Latin and economics, are almost impossible to secure for September.

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Private school families have already been warned there are very few state school places available amid fears of a pupil exodus if a Labour government forces schools to pay 20pc VAT on fees.

It has been estimated that up to a quarter of students will be removed from private schools if the policy goes ahead. Some parents have started pulling their children out, cancelling places at fee-paying schools or even remortgaging homes to afford higher school fees.

The Telegraph reported last month that councils had issued warnings online about availability for so-called “in-year” transfers of pupils. Cambridgeshire warned it has “no available spaces in secondary schools in the Fenland area”, and in Oxfordshire there were said to be several areas that have “very few or no” places.

Both areas have a relatively high proportion of pupils who are in private schools, which includes preparatory and secondary education, with Cambridgeshire at 11pc and Oxfordshire at 16pc.

However, the share of state primary and secondary schools judged by Ofsted inspectors to be outstanding – the highest rating the body offers – is just 11pc and 12pc respectively.

This is notably below the 20pc average for England of outstanding-rated state schools in 151 unitary authorities, according to analysis by the Telegraph using the latest available figures.

Other potential blackspots for parents seeking refuge from high fees in the state sector include Somerset, where 10pc or pupils are in private schools and only 11pc of schools have received the highest rating from Ofsted. The picture is the same in Shropshire, with 11pc of pupils in private schools and 10pc of schools in the area judged to be outstanding.

In Rutland, in the East Midlands, the proportion of pupils in private schooling is 26pc while the share of state schools judged to be outstanding is 22pc, meaning parents in the area could also face tough competition for spaces at top comprehensives.

Many areas of London and the South East have very high concentrations of pupils in private education, with the highest being the City of London at 91pc. But here there is also a high share of top-rated state schools.

Kensington and Chelsea ranks number two for proportion of pupils in private schools at 46pc. Parents here can choose from 240 state and secondary comprehensive schools, of which just under 60pc are outstanding.

Other unitary authorities with a high proportion of pupils in private schools and where parents may find it easier to secure a place at a top comprehensive include Westminster, Barnet, Wandsworth, Hackney and Hammersmith and Fulham, which all have a relatively high share rated outstanding.

In Scotland, parents have warned that top state schools that teach subjects which are mostly only available in private schools are currently difficult to get into. It potentially leaves children facing having to drop subjects or receive one-to-one tuition should fees become unaffordable under Labour.

Angela Brennan, a mother whose two sons attend a £30,000-a-year private school in West Lothian, said her youngest could not find a place at a comprehensive teaching either Latin or economics.

She said: “I can’t even get him a place. I’ve been calling all the schools and no one can support a subject he wants to take.”

She added: “There’s not a school in West Lothian that can help and I called Edinburgh schools and they’ve got a very long waiting list. The reality is he is going to have to go to a state school and he will not be able to do the subjects he wants to.”

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: “Our concern around pupil movement remains that there might not be the right spaces in the right places for children whose education is disrupted by this policy.

“Independent schools play a vital part in their community’s education ecosystem and we are particularly worried about how a tax on education might impact local special educational needs and disabilities provision. A full impact assessment needs to be undertaken to understand the unintended consequences that might play out in different local areas.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour will invest in delivering a brilliant state education for children in every state school by recruiting over 6,500 new teachers, funded by ending tax breaks for private schools.

“Independent schools have raised fees above inflation for well over a decade and do not have to pass Labour’s proposed change onto parents.”