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Private school parents pull children out as Starmer vows to launch tax raid ‘straight away’

Sir Keir Starmer attends the launch of the Scottish Labour's General Election campaign
Sir Keir Starmer attends the launch of the Scottish Labour's General Election campaign - Anadolu/Anadolu

Are you considering taking your child out of private school? Money@telegraph.co.uk

Parents are pulling children out of private school after Sir Keir Starmer promised a tax raid on “day one” of a Labour government.

Headteachers have told The Telegraph that parents are already cancelling places for September amid fears Labour will be in power before the start of the school holidays.

Others are rushing to pay fees in advance, following news that the poll will be held on July 4 rather than in the autumn as previously expected.

It comes as Sir Keir Starmer doubled down on Labour’s commitment to apply VAT “straight away” if his party wins the general election.

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Asked if the plan would be implemented on “day one” of a Labour government, Sir Keir told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “As soon as it can be done. It is a question of the timetable in Parliament. But these steps are intended to be done straight away.”

Silas Edmonds, who is the principal at Ewell Castle School in Surrey, said parents of pupils with offers to join in September have already begun to pull out because they are “too worried” about the cost and uncertainty. Others, the headteacher said, are scrambling to pay upfront.

Mr Edmonds said: “Several year seven families and families of pupils who would have been taking places in sixth form have withdrawn because they are just too worried about this additional cost.”

The principal of the £20,193-a-year school wrote to parents this week following Rishi Sunak’s shock announcement to warn them that while they are “hoping for the best” they are “preparing for the worst” if Labour wins the election.

“We are looking at our finances to see if there is any kind of buffer we can build in to meet parents halfway but it is going to be tough. I’m really hoping they [Labour] will see sense and realise it’s actually going to cost the Government long term.”

Mr Edmonds said a rising number of parents are rushing to pay upfront.

He said: “We’ve had a fees-in-advance scheme for a while now because we have been doing horizon scanning and we saw this coming down the tracks so we have had a few parents who have already taken advantage of that.

“A few more who have enquired in the past week or two. I suspect there will be more next week.”

Anthony Oulton, principal at Hulme Private Grammar School in Manchester, raised concerns about the number of acceptance letters which might now be revoked.

“I do wonder and worry about how many parents with offers for September starts might contact us in the next week. There is just so much uncertainty about this, it’s really, really unhelpful.”

Around a third of students at Hulme Grammar School receive bursaries and a “good number” are on fully paid scholarships. Last year, the school spent £750,000 to help pupils from lower income families to attend the private school.

A report by wealth manager Saltus last week found more than a quarter of parents will remove their children from private school and move them to a local state school if the VAT levy is imposed.

One parent who is considering taking her children out of private school is Loveena Tandon. The 44-year-old mother of two, who is originally from India, said she was considering “all options”.

Ms Tandon, whose children attend private schools in London and Surrey, has calculated a 20pc rise in fees will leave her having to find £14,000 per term.

Ms Tandon said: “I am going to be having conversations with my parents, with my mother and sister in Mumbai and we are going to have serious conversations about the possibilities there [in India] and also going to be looking at possibilities in the state sector and I will also look at what I can do with my career.

“A lot of parents are already inquiring about state schools. Everyone is doing whatever they can but the bottom line is a big chunk of parents cannot afford this.

“Some are already going to state schools and they are already feeling the pressure and crumbling.”

Ms Tandon is part of Education not Taxation, a grassroots campaign set up by angry parents in an attempt to force Labour to reverse the policy.

The group’s petition calling on Labour to stop the VAT hike has surpassed 120,000 signatures and has seen a further 2,000 people sign it in the past 24 hours.

David Woodgate, the chief executive of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, which represented 1,100 private schools, criticised Labour’s costing of the policy. He argued the party has not taken into consideration the cost to the state if tens of thousands of private school pupils are moved to the state sector.

Labour has claimed the policy will raise £1.7bn, £1.6bn will come from charging VAT and £100m will come from scrapping business rate relief. But Mr Woodgate said the “genuine real risk of an exodus of pupils into the state sector has not been factored into Labour’s numbers”.

“The figure could be well under £1bn in reality which is not very much money to fund the policies which Labour wants to fund from it,” he said.

A Local Government Association spokesman warned parents of the risks of taking their children out at the last minute.

“With 80pc of secondary schools now academies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with demand. Councils have a legal duty to ensure capacity but currently have no powers to open new secondary schools or direct academies to expand.

“Every child should have a fair chance of getting into their parents’ preferred school and councils and schools work extremely hard to try and ensure that as many pupils as possible are allocated their first preference.

“This ruling needs to be amended as soon as possible to ensure as many children as possible get the places they want.”

Labour was approached for comment.