Head of Tristram Hunt’s old school criticises Labour’s ‘bigoted’ attack on private education

The Telegraph, 25/11/14, HMC member Mark Beard, Headmaster of University College School, London says Labour must spend more time raising standards in state education rather than relying on the fee-paying sector.

The headmaster of Tristram Hunt’s old school has accused Labour of peddling “offensive bigotry” after the shadow education secretary unveiled plans to strip fee-paying institutions of up to £700 million in tax breaks.

Mark Beard, the head of University College School, north London, said the party should spend more time attempting to raise standards in state schools rather than relying on the independent sector to do the job.

In an outspoken intervention, it was claimed that Labour’s “tasteless” policy displayed an ignorance of the realities of life in modern independent schools.

The reforms were also criticised by the biggest union representing state secondary head teachers amid warnings that it would merely provide “more legislative hoops for schools to jump through” with no impact.

The comments were made as Mr Hunt unveiled controversial plans to strip fee-paying schools of business rate relief – worth around £147m a year to the sector – unless they agree to work closely with local state schools.

Under the plan, independent schools will be expected to sponsor state academies, share teachers, train new staff, help state pupils apply to top universities, tap into alumni networks to offer more work experience placements, run summer schools and provide joint and run joint extra-curricular activities.

All schools will be subjected to a partnership “test” and could lose their business rate relief – which will total around £700m over the course of the next Parliament – if they fail to pass.

But the comments provoked a furious backlash from independent school leaders who claimed the Labour party was attempting to embark on a fresh “class war” following a previous attempt almost a decade ago to strip large numbers of institutions of their charitable status.

Mr Beard, the head of UCS in Hampstead, where Mr Hunt was educated in the late 80s, accused Labour of attempting to “rely on independent schools to solve the issues for the 93 per cent of children who are educated in the state sector”.

He told the Telegraph: “Isn’t it time for Labour to come up with some new, helpful initiatives rather than espousing what some might deem an offensive bigotry?”

Mr Beard invited the shadow education secretary to visit his old school, saying he would find that it already invested £1m a year in subsidised fees, including 100 per cent bursaries for some pupils, a range of collobrations with state secondary and primary schools and tens of thousands of pounds being raised for charities.

“Indeed, if Mr Hunt wanted to tastelessly quantify the value of public benefit that UCS generates each year then he would find that it far outstrips the value of tax relief that UCS receives through its charitable status,” he said.

Mr Beard insisted UCS was “not alone in this regard”, with the majority of independent schools taking part in similar initiatives.

"Mr Hunt seems to want independent schools to become pure business ventures," he said. "What happens then? Remove charitable status and he removes any pretence of encouraging those schools to play their part in society.

"Instead, they could charge whatever fees they wished, not bother about bursaries, not worry about pupil diversity and not share their facilities with the local community.

"There is not a head of an independent school in the land who would want that."

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