While the Labour Party’s proposal to provide free school meals for all primary school children is perhaps not a good idea, the proposal to impose VAT on independent school fees certainly is.

Ironically, the same suggestion was recently made by a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.

The independent sector is subsidised by the state giving unfair economic and social capital to those who are able to use it.

This has contributed to rising inequality, an unfair distribution of resources, a huge variation in educational opportunities, a poorly funded maintained sector and the attendant negative impact on society and the economy.

Independent schools necessarily attract students from higher socio-economic groups leading to seemingly better examination results and a loss of commitment to the maintained sector by their staff and parents who have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that they perform better than state schools.

Research on results, when social background and prior achievement are taken into account, suggests the maintained sector is at least as good as the independent sector while operating at a significantly lower level of funding.

The OECD PISA report for 2009 states that UK maintained schools outscored private schools by 20 score points when socio-economic backgrounds of students are taken into account.

Private schools benefit financially from their charitable status, directly through tax relief on rates, investment income, gift-aid for donors, relief from corporation tax and indirectly by fund-raising based on their status.

Independent school teachers have usually been trained by the state and their pensions are also subsidised by the state as they are allowed to be members of the government teachers’ pension scheme even though working in the private sector.

The Independent Schools Council estimate the fiscal savings at £88 million and charitable donations at £100 million.

Based on a Freedom of Information response to the Green Party provided by the DFE it was estimated that the government subsidy of 6% to the independent sector for teachers’ pensions amounted to £131 million.

Independent schools should lose their charitable status and other state subsidies. In addition, imposing VAT on independent schools fees (as is the case with some private health care) would provide much needed funding for the maintained sector.

By Dr Jonathan Godfrey, Hereford Sixth Form College principal