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‘Labour has already failed my working-class son with special needs’

labour private school tax raid
Keir Starmer's VAT raid doesn't exempt all children with special needs from paying higher fees - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

In the wake of news that Labour intends to tax private education, parents across the country have been reassessing their finances to determine if they can weather a hike in fees.

For Amanda, a single parent from a working class background, private school is a necessity, and Labour’s tax raid could force her to choose between her child’s wellbeing and getting by.

Amanda’s son Mark, 11, has special educational needs (SEN) in the form of dyslexia, along with speech and language difficulties.

The self-employed education worker said the state education system had failed her son and that one teacher refused to believe that he had dyslexia as he could spell certain words.

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She added that due to Labour’s policy announcement, which could add thousands a year to her fees, she no longer plans to vote for the party in the general election.

Amanda said: “Mark didn’t want to go to school before. He’d come home from school in tears.”

Fortunately, Amanda found a small, independent school in Edinburgh with a focus on helping children with special educational needs, which Mark has attended for five years.

“Mark loves going to school now,” Amanda said. “He gets to use a laptop, so he can express himself far better – he’s much happier and more confident.”

Mark’s current school currently charges annual fees of around £14,000, meaning Labour’s tax raid could see her fork out up to £2,800 more each year. Amanda estimates that she will earn around £36,000 this year which means she could be forced to pull her son out of the school he loves.

“I’m already struggling. I am by no means rich,” she said. “I have very little disposable income. I am a master of budgeting – most things I buy are second hand, I do not run a car or go on holidays abroad, and despite the calls in the media for private school parents to cancel Netflix, I do not even have a TV, never mind a TV subscription.”

If Amanda is unable to make the increased payments, she won’t put her son back into a state school.

“I’d rather homeschool him,” Amanda said. “Going back to a state school would seriously impact his self-esteem and limit his academic potential.”

Amanda has been frustrated by the stereotyping of parents of children in private schools as wealthy.

“This policy seems to view all independent school parents as toffs, able to simply sell an antique painting to cover school costs. It reflects a poor understanding of the realities of people’s life, and disdain for the impact on children with SEN,” she said.

“I do not send my son to an independent school to obtain some sort of elitist privilege. I send him there in order that he will not be disadvantaged by a system not designed to support children with specialist needs.

“I’m already taking some of the burden off the state by paying for my son’s own education. Why should I have to pay even more tax?”

To the relief of some parents, Labour has said that children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) will be exempt from VAT on private schools. An EHCP is a legal document that sets out an individual’s special educational needs, along with what they would like to achieve.

However, EHCPs are exclusive to England; while Wales has a direct equivalent called an Individual Development Plan (IDP), Scotland does not. This means that as it stands, children in Scotland with Special Educational Needs attending private schools have no path to exemption from the tax set to be levied on their education.

Amanda reached out to her local MP, Ian Murray, a Labour politician who will not be standing at the next election. He told her that he couldn’t offer her any help at this time, other than suggesting that he would try to press the Labour party to develop a Scottish alternative to EHCPs. But with Amanda staring down the barrel of cost increases that could come within months, she cannot afford to wait for a solution that may not arrive.

Even if Amanda and her son lived in England, current waiting lists to receive an EHCP are five months long on average. Around 7,600 pupils at independent schools in England currently have an EHCP, while more than 100,000 do not, according to figures from the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents private schools.

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the ISC, raised concerns over how a tax on education would affect pupils with special educational needs.

Mr Robinson said: “We are particularly worried about how a tax on education might impact specialist provision in different regions and local areas. A full impact assessment needs to be undertaken to understand the unintended consequences that might play out in different areas, including Scotland.”

Lorraine Davidson, chief executive of the Scottish Independent Schools Council, added: “There is no clarity about how the VAT policy would affect children in Scotland with additional support needs.

“Around 6,000 children in Scotland are expected to have their education disrupted by being forced out of their schools, and those with additional support needs will be impacted the most by disruption to their education. EHCPs don’t exist in Scotland and ASN [additional support needs] is one of several issues in which the Scottish context doesn’t appear to have been considered. “

Ms Davidson said income levels in Scotland are lower, therefore VAT will likely disproportionately impact pupils in Scotland.

She said: “There are no tax breaks for independent schools in Scotland, which already pay business rates; through our partnership work, four times as many people who attend our schools benefit from the sharing of learning and facilities.”

The Labour Party was approached for comment.