Labour conference

Labour accused of hypocrisy after vote to abolish private schools

Corbyn in Penicuik

Jeremy Corbyn may be forced to accept new policy (pic: Terry Murden)

Labour activists voted in favour of abolishing private schools in England, which is likely to commit the party to including it in the next general election manifesto.

Private schools would have their charitable status removed and see their endowments, investments and properties redistributed to the state sector.

The move at the party’s annual conference in Brighton will prompt accusations of hypocrisy given that a number of senior party figures, including Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti, have educated children privately and former leader Tony Blair attended Fettes in Edinburgh. Current leader Jeremy Corbyn went to a private prep school.

Scottish Labour is likely to campaign for a similar policy north of the border. The party’s Scotland Office spokesman Paul Sweeney said in June that “all private schools should be brought, en masse, into the state sector.”

Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said before the vote took place today that she would back the policy if it was adopted by the party. 

“As you well know, I sent my son to private school some years ago but if the party takes that position I would support it,” she told Sky News

Told that many people would view that as hypocrisy, Ms Abbott said: ‘I did what I did and I talked about it at the time and you can’t keep rehearsing those arguments.’ 

The campaign’s motion calls for Labour to commit to “integrating” private schools into the state sector in its next manifesto. It follows a long campaign by the left wing of the party which has made Eton College, the school attended by numerous senior Tories including Boris Johnson, its rallying point.    

Holly Rigby, a campaign organiser and state school teacher said: “This is a really positive moment for the Labour party because it’s the strongest commitment that the party has made to deal with the problem of private schools in a very long time. It’s a really radical commitment as well … This is a really big victory for the left.”

But Julie Robinson, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, which represents about 1,000 private schools in England including Eton, said Labour’s vote was an attack on the rights of parents.

It’s one rule for the Corbyn few and another rule for the many

Ben Bradly, Tory MP

“Tearing down excellent schools does not improve our education system. The repercussions would be irreversible and far-reaching, damaging educational opportunities and limiting life chances. Moreover, Labour’s plan would breach the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to choose education,” Robinson said.

Teacher trade union boss Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said that the move will do nothing for social mobility and is merely a “knockabout political crowd-pleaser”.

Tory MP Ben Bradley said campaigning to abolish private schools when members of the shadow cabinet have sent their children to them would amount to “blind hypocrisy”.

‘It’s one rule for the Corbyn few and another rule for the many,’ he said.

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