Catherine Loyd argues the Labour Party’s abolish Eton campaign against private education is misguided radicalism that won’t address genuine issue.
A class ceiling? Labour’s annual Party conference, held recently at The Brighton Centre, thrust our flawed education system to the precipice of political commentary by putting forward a contentious motion to abolish UK private schools. With delegates voting in favour of including said motion in the next party manifesto, Labour has pledged a withdrawal of private school’s charitable status alongside their tax privileges i.e. their permitted business rate exemption.
Labour’s intention is to dismantle entrenched privilege that they see is propagated by an old-boys network and a pipeline to the most prestigious universities that these private institutions foster. Tensions are at fever-pitch as after eight years of austerity, led by a disproportionately privileged, privately-educated parliament, a social disparity is glaring. This vote is a reaction to a plutocratic society that serves the elite and sidelines the disadvantaged. Critics may class this motion as envy politics; they fail to see the stark inequalities, the floundering underfunded state-schools, the crowdfunding for classroom essentials, the 300 per cent more spent on a privately educated students and the blatant private-school exploitation of tax loopholes.
It seems to be a misdirection of effort, exhausting political willpower in legal warfare when really collaboration should be initiated between state and private schools
Labour calls for greater social mobility by instating public ownership, seizing the assets of these private institutions to make them property of the state. The private-school acceptance from UK universities would be capped at seven per cent, in line with the current percentage of the UK population that attend private schools, which raises concerns of whether a quota would breach a university’s right to hold academic independence. My quandary is: at what point does Labour’s motion of social justice impinge on our right for free choice in education? Labour’s proposed plans are host to a litany of legal ramifications: parents have the right to choose the education they want their child to have, the right to property is protected and if assets are seized, then should all forms of non-state education i.e. private tutors, universities have their assets seized?
Their motion is too obscure, with proposed policy ranging from just heavy taxation to unequivocal abolition. A proposed abolition could contravene human rights legislation and heavy taxation doesn’t address our divisive, segregated system. Ironically, if this battle was ever fought in the courtroom, the two-thirds of senior judges who are privately educated would undoubtedly condemn Labour’s policy. It seems to be a misdirection of effort, exhausting political willpower in legal warfare when really collaboration should be initiated between state and private schools. Angela Rayner’s plans to integrate private school students into the state sector are unworkable as, if this motion was an actuality, 600,000 pupils would be entering a strained state system, alongside an added cost of £3.6bn. With an impending election, abolishing private schools seems to be a resoundingly unpopular policy for the labour party with 50 percent opposed. Its radical rhetoric cultivates a divisiveness, but at heart, the motion does align with the masses rather than the elite few. Labour MPs have pacified resistance by stating that it “isn’t about seizing property, it’s about access to services and facilities”.
The Conservatives will wield this motion against Labour as an example of Labour’s disillusion and ‘far-left’ radicalism, with the policy already being referred to as ‘dogma’. Conversely, Labour’s policy will take advantage of public contempt for systemic, generational inequality that advances a private school student’s prospects. A student who is privy to a network of alumni, alumni who recruit in their own image and fast-track those to spaces of authority. The cycle continues as those in the “club” will never sanction reform that would in turn uproot them. Academising private schools will only relocate the issue; the culture will still be rampant. Inequality is the greatest barrier to mobility, but Labour’s motion has sold the masses a naive image that privilege can be eradicated, when in reality it can only ever be mitigated.