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Articles and Education News

VAT on School Fees - A Commentary

Article Written October 2023

As the Labour Party Annual conference in Liverpool came to a close yesterday, one contentious manifesto pledge remains a discussion point on both sides of the political fence – the proposal to take away the charitable status from Independent Schools, and thus make their fees VAT applicable. Why have Labour pledged to do this? With average Independent School fees in 2023 at £15,200 per year (and closer to £25,000 in and around London), the gap in average spending per pupil between State and Independent schools has risen from 40% to 90% in the last 12 years. Labour have pledged to redress this imbalance through funding a £1.7bn injection into the State Sector through the cash raised from VAT paid by Independent School parents. When will it happen Immediately post election, according to party Chair Anneliese Dodds, meaning Independent Schools and their fee-paying clients are already preparing for the eventuality and consulting with tax advisors. So what will the reality actually look like for fee-paying parents, and what might the implications on the wider education system be? Since the manifesto pledge was announced more than 18 months ago, I have been repeatedly asking these difficult questions to Headteachers of the schools I visit, and a number of themes have arisen in their responses 1.A deep concern for the future of the smaller, often proprietary led Independent schools which don’t have huge backup funds to swallow the expected 20% initial immediate drop out rate of parents who simply cannot afford to pay more. Often, it is these small schools, with their lesser facilities, and, consequently, lower fees who appeal to the middle class independent school parents who stretch their dual incomes to the max to be able to afford Independent Schooling for their child(ren). The expectation is then for many smaller schools to slowly limp through the first 12 months, and eventually cease trading. With other costs of living rising, and given that Independent School fees have already risen by (on average) 3.5% per annum for the last 10 years, it is these families who will pull their children out if faced with a VATable termly invoice and questions surely must be raised on whether these hard-working dual income parents are those who should be penalised? Those parents paying the £49,998 per year fees for Eton are certainly not going to be pulling young Tarquin out into the local Academy are they? No, they will doubtless drain an off-shore investment or sell a Sunseeker to take advantage of the many Pre Paid School Fees schemes offered (whereby parents can pay for years of their children’s fees in advance at the current, non-VATable rate). 2.How will the State Sector accommodate this additional influx of children? According to the Daily Telegraph, 25% of the UK’s State Secondary schools were oversubscribed in 2022. Whilst the repurposing of the VAT income into the recruitment of an additional 6500 teachers in the State Sector is a much needed, and vote-winning strategy, the Headteachers I have spoken to are questioning how, in the short term the State Sector can absorb this. According to 2021 data from the Independent Schools Council, around 569,000 children in the UK are privately educated (around 6% of the population). If 20% of these children require the State School place they are legally obligated to be offered, and which their parents’ taxes have already funded, this amounts to 113,800 new pupils squeezing into the State System. Even with the smaller figure of 90,000 quoted by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt earlier this year, this is an exodus. Where will they go? And what will the impact be on current state-educated pupils who will see their class sizes increase? 3.We’ll get around it. Perhaps the most pervasive of themes coming from Headteachers I have spoken to, is that (thanks to the advice received from their tax consultants), they believe it may be possible to manage the changes to ensure they are within the law, but not passing on 20% additional fees to parents. A restructuring of the way fees are calculated, so that parents are presented with one VAT-applicable termly invoice for ‘Tuition’ and another, VAT-exempt invoice for ‘Everything else’ (e.g. Staff Salaries, Pastoral Care & Support, Building & Grounds Maintenance, Sports Coaching, Food etc) seems to be gaining traction. In the words of one North London Headteacher of an Independent School “Maybe if parents are told they have to pay 20% on £3000 per term, rather than on £7000, they’ll stick with us and we won’t go under”. 4.We’ll have to make money another way. This point, supported by UCL Education Economist Dr Jake Anders, revolves around schools, once they have VAT on fees, offsetting the amount passed on to parents by reclaiming VAT on their spending. Alternatively, will we see Independent Schools looking for corporate sponsorship and ‘debenture places’ offered to the children of highflyers from The City, as is the case in Dubai? Perhaps we’ll see Winchester College’s 1st XV sponsored by Lidl? Or the Goldman Sachs logo emblazoned on the Rodean lacrosse sticks? Overall, the word on the pedagogical street seems to be that, from both sides, not enough thought has been put into the ramifications of Mr Starmer’s plan and who will in fact be detrimentally impacted. What will happen to students on means tested bursaries and the pots of bursarial cash that fund them? Can Independent School parents who are asked to pay VAT on their fees request a tax rebate on the proportion of their income tax which goes towards the State School place their child doesn’t use? Will the government support independent school teachers who lose their jobs when their schools close? Perhaps Reagan had a point when he said: Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.

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Article Written January 2022 for Time and Leisure



Wimbledon has steadily acquired almost legendary status in recent years, and not just for tennis! When it comes to independent schooling, the presence of pedagogical powerhouses Kings College School and Wimbledon High School has placed SW19 firmly on the educational map for those looking for the most academically high achieving institutions. But with applicants at an all-time high, and competition for places amongst the fiercest in London, let’s remember that most children are average. So what does the rest of the independent School landscape look like from Wimbledon, and is there more than meets the eye?



Article Written September 2021 for Time and Leisure

When it comes to choosing Primary education for the Nation’s 4-11 year olds, we Brits love a rhyming phrase, and no more so than the long-established ‘State ‘til Eight’. So what does this actually entail, and how do parents who make that choice navigate the transition from State to Independent for Year 3 or 4.


The old adage of using the ‘local state primary’ until the end of KS1, then transferring into the Independent System is a well-trodden path, especially in the enclaves of SW London where pockets of aspirational middle-class parents have indirectly created ‘Prep/Primary hybrids’ with extensive extra-curricular tuition replacing school fees. But what does it mean?


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State & Independent Education – Mixing & Matching. Can families really have the best of both worlds in 2019?


Mel Ingle, May 2019 - Article Written for Young Giants 

Pupil numbers in UK Private Education have soared in recent years to their highest levels ever. This in spite of a 3.4% increase in annual fees in 2018 (the lowest rise since 1994, but still exceeding inflation) taking the average for Day Schooling in the UK to £14,500 per year, and significantly higher in London and the South East. Astonishing when one considers the current uncertainty of our political and economic landscapes, and the accompanying belt-tightening amongst British middle-classes. So, in 2019, 1,422 years since the foundation of the first ever UK fee-paying school (The Kings School, Canterbury), how are parents negotiating the thorny issue of State versus Private Education? Why are those who pay, doing so? What are the true implications of mixing and matching both systems during your child’s education? And what difference does it make?

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Grammar Schools Demystified:  Educational Holy Grail or Unrealistic Pipe Dream?


Mel Ingle, January 2017 - Article Written for

Firmly entrenched in Mumsnet chitter-chatter and school gate mythology sits the mystical beast known as ‘The Grammar School’. Most of the British public have heard of them, many over the age of 45 will have distinct memories of their own 11+ experience and the extent to which it shaped their educational path. But what are Grammar Schools today and where do they fit in the complex, competitive and hierarchical structure of the UK’s Education System? Do they, as Prime Minister Teresa May, speaking in September 2016 following proposals to overturn the ban on the creation of new Grammar Schools, underpin a “belief in social mobility and making this country a true meritocracy”? Or, as denouncers will claim, are they merely another manifestation of the wealthy few using their affluence to overturn the meritocratic aim of the system and keep it as their own little secret? And in any case, politics aside – how DO you get your child into one?

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Does Socio-Economic Background Affect Pay Growth Amongst Early Entrants to High-Status Jobs?


Jake Anders, August 2015 


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