SNP and Greens reticent on private schools after Labour delegates back abolition

Neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish Greens would confirm whether they would consider the abolition of private schools in Scotland after Labour backs new policy

  • Outrage from private school sector following success of Labour conference motion to democratically redistribute the properties and funds of elite private schools
  • Scottish Government says it recognises that “the independent sector is a well-established part of the Scottish schools system that promotes choice for parents”
  • Scottish Greens offer no comment on whether they would back the abolition of private schools in Scotland, with the party’s policy on the issue currently under discussion

THE SNP and the Scottish Greens have refrained from backing or condemning the abolition of private schools, following the passage of a motion supporting such a reform at the ongoing Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Following the motion’s success, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News: “Now the discussions will take place exactly how that will work. You can see this developing over time.

“What we’re saying is ‘let’s have one education service for everybody. Let’s end these grotesque levels of inequality within our educational system’.”

Under the plans voted on, the properties and funds of British private schools would be “redistributed democratically and fairly” across the rest of the UK educational system. England would also follow Scotland in eliminating private schools’ charitable status.

READ MORE: Scottish private schools to finally pay "appropriate taxation"

The proposal immediately elicited outrage from leaders within the UK’s elite private school sector, with Matthew Adshead, vice-chair of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) and head of Derbyshire’s fee-paying Old Vicarage School, condemning the policy as “far-left” and a “worrying proposition”. Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), also warned that the Labour policy would be “an act of unprecedented vandalism” that would “harm freedom.”

Similar anger greeted the Scottish Government’s 2017 move to strip all business rates relief from private schools in Scotland from the 2020/21 financial year onwards, despite polling finding that a majority of Scots backed the removal of charitable status for such institutions.

However, since the announcement of the new Labour policy, both the SNP and the Scottish Greens have offered no confirmation on whether they would agree to such a sweeping reform.

Asked by CommonSpace if the Scottish Government would ever consider the abolition of private schools in Scotland, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the independent sector is a well-established part of the Scottish education system that promotes choice for parents.

“We accepted the independent Barclay Review recommendation that reduced or zero rate bills relief for independent schools across Scotland, while council run schools pay rates, was unfair and should be removed. That is why the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill, which is currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, removes eligibility for charity rates relief from mainstream independent schools.”

Following the Labour conference decision, SNP MP Carol Monaghan tweeted: "Whatever your views on private schools, Labour’s plan to abolish them is pie in the sky stuff. Parental choice is key and if private schools increase opportunity for privileged, then we must consider how we rebalance the playing field to ensure equality."

READ MORE: Poll: Majority of Scots believe private schools should lose charitable status

CommonSpace also sought clarification from the Scottish Government on whether Monaghan’s views accurately reflected SNP policy on the matter, but no response was offered.

The Scottish Greens – who declined to comment on the matter – have not backed the abolition of private schools in Scotland. However, CommonSpace understands that discussion surrounding the party’s position on this issue is ongoing.

However, following reports that the financial security of Edinburgh’s private schools could be under threat in February, Scottish Green education spokesperson Ross Greer told CommonSpace: “Private schools only entrench the grotesque levels of inequality in this country.

“Like private schools, public schools provide education and lease their facilities to community groups. However, they pay rates so it’s hard to feel sympathy for private schools who will finally have to start paying as well, rather than continue enjoying a tax break due to their dubious ‘charitable status’. 

READ MORE: Scot Govt’s education ‘vision’ in doubt as minister 'lobbies' against government policy on ending private school tax relief in his constituency

“In Finland where there are almost no private schools and absolutely no fee-paying schools, attainment rates are higher and inequality is much lower.

“Scotland’s priority should be making every state school in the country first class, rather than spending our time worrying about the fate of these elitist institutions.”

Commenting on the possibility of private schools being abolished in Scotland, the Scottish journalist, teacher and education policy expert James McEnaney told CommonSpace: “Private schools exist to protect, entrench and magnify the privileges and power associated with wealth. This isn't an unfortunate by-product of what they do but rather the product they sell.

“To be frank, they are contrary to everything that education is supposed to be about. Getting rid of them would benefit the broader education system but, just as importantly, would represent a huge step towards dismantling the networks of unearned and unjustifiable privilege that still control large sections of the country.”

Picture courtesy of Craig

COMMONSPACE FORUM 26 SEPTEMBER: Indyref at 5