The headmaster of a prestigious North East school has branded Tristram Hunt’s threats to hit private educators’ tax breaks “bizarre”.
Kieran McLaughlin, who is at the helm of the fee-paying Durham School, said the Shadow Education Secretary had “no coherent philosophy” after he said a Labour Government would strip tax breaks from independent schools that didn’t help state schools.
Mr Hunt said private schools should share expertise and help state school pupils get into top universities. He said this would mean setting up joint school programmes such as combined extra-curricular activities.
He told reporters: “I realise that to some this may seem an unnecessarily tough test. But that is not because I want to penalise private education but because I want to make sure we break down the barriers holding Britain back.
“The next Government will say to them ‘Step up and play your part. Earn your keep. Because the time you could expect something for nothing is over’.”
But Mr McLaughlin said the speech was “designed to make a lot of noise rather than to add anything meaningful” and accused the privately-educated shadow minister of too strong a focus on the 7% of schools which are part of the private sector.
Durham School is one the most highly-regarded fee-paying schools in the country, which can charge up to £20,000 per year.
And Mr McLaughlin said its staff and students frequently work with state schools.
He said: “Durham School is involved in a number of local leagues as well as fixtures against other state schools. Only this week we host Durham Johnston school at a hockey match played on our Astroturf, and we enjoy a large number of links between us and other local clubs in a variety of sports.
“Speeches such as these are designed to make a lot of noise rather than to add anything meaningful to the national debate; there is no coherent philosophy in what he says and certainly no ideas about how to raise the performance of state schools across the country.
“It seems somewhat bizarre to focus on participation in local leagues when there are so many other ways genuine partnerships between state and independent schools act to benefit both.
“Independent schools such as Durham have been subject to public benefit tests from the Charity Commission for a number of years now, and we pass with flying colours.
“Mr Hunt would do well to spend his time concentrating on the 93% of youngsters who are currently in state schools rather than on the 7% (of which of course he was one) that are educated in the independent sector.”