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If you’re complaining about private school fees you need to get a grip

Eton public school boys Berkshire, England, UK
Students at a private school head to class (Picture: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Every time I read a headline or Mumsnet post from someone moaning about the thought of pulling their children out of private school because of a fee rise that hasn’t even happened, I feel sick.

In the real world, children are going to school with empty lunch boxes because their parents can’t afford to feed them

So it’s no wonder I think these well-off whingers need to shut up and read the room.

If they win the election, Labour has pledged to remove independent schools’ exemption from VAT and business rates – charging them a standard rate of 20%. 

As a result, so much fuss has been made about the Labour Party’s suggested policy on private schools, even though it will only affect a minority of people – it’s ridiculous.

It’s estimated that the move could generate £1.5bn, which Labour are pledging to invest in state education, and as a former state schooler, I know just how much this money could help.

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Sure, I missed out on some elements of education – like my school not offering languages at A-level – and it might mean I didn’t build connections that could’ve helped me walk into any job (like the role of PM!) but it showed me how to prefer the satisfaction of success that comes through merit. Not through wealth.

Right now, I live in a south-east London borough where some families can’t afford to put the heating on. And nearly one in four state school pupils in England are eligible for free school meals.

I believe every child should get the same chance, so I’d never consider private education for my two daughters, who go to our nearest single-sex community secondary school. 

Even if I could afford the alternative, I wouldn’t choose it for them. Thanks to the hard work of pupils and teachers, their school excels in STEM subjects and girls go off to university or do well in other ways once they leave.

It’s mixed in every way – in terms of ability, beliefs, race and religion. That’s the best environment for a teenager to grow up in, realising that everyone is different and learning empathy for other people, whatever their situation. 

Not an environment surrounded by this country’s richest children who have a paid-for head start to the most coveted jobs just because of where they went to school.

Of course, I do everything I can to support them – whether that’s helping out with revision, or providing snacks and then disappearing when their friends want to come round – but I won’t essentially pay for them to pass exams.

Hannah Verdier
Hannah encourages all parents to use the state system (Picture: Hannah Verdier)

I want my children to be happy, kind and content with their lives instead.

I can’t say the same for a lot of the parents of the current cabinet who went to private school – like Rishi Sunak (Winchester College), Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse) and James Cleverly (Colfe’s School).

What a breath of fresh air the shadow cabinet is by contrast. For example, when I hear how passionately Angela Rayner speaks, or see her showing so much empathy for veterans, it confirms the skills a state education can bring.

If you go to private school, you might be happy in your privileged bubble, but how can you hope to understand what those less fortunate than you are going through? You have no idea of what the real world is like, and you learn no life skills whatsoever.

If a pupil is engaged and prepared to knuckle down, they’ll thrive in any school. 

It’s why I have no sympathy for these private school parents clutching their pearls and worrying they’ll have to cut back on luxury holidays, flog their second car or pull their precious little ones out.

Especially after Labour released its recent manifesto that shows £1.5bn is earmarked to be spent on things like 6,500 new teachers, Ofsted reform, over 3,000 new nurseries, and mental health support for every school. It’s cash that will give kids a fighting chance.

Angela Rayner pictured in front of a sign reading 'Change'
I am inspired by people like Angela Rayner (Picture: Getty Images)

So I couldn’t welcome these plans any more.

As for the people who think there’ll be a mass exodus of students into state schools, I disagree. There’s no guarantee that private schools will even pass on the extra costs to parents – they could absorb it themselves.

If a small handful of students inevitably have to move to a state school, well, kids are resilient and they settle in quickly. Plus, parents might be pleasantly surprised to find they’re not full of yobs.

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Of course, our state school isn’t perfect and, with a large number of students needing extra help, some can get lost in the system. 

But I’d argue that paying for education is elitist – roughly 7% of pupils in the UK go to private or independent schools. Simply, I’m sure most can afford to suck up any fee rises. 

Now, compare the 7% of pupils who could be affected by the VAT change with the almost 25% of state school pupils who receive free school meals and surely you’ll see what we really should be worried about.

I need people to read the room and look at the bigger picture here. For every single one of our children’s sakes. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Ross.Mccafferty@metro.co.uk. 

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