Family & Education

Labour plans to abolish tax relief on private education could pose problems for Jewish schools

The party has yet to reveal whether it would grant exemptions to independent Strictly Orthodox community schools


A general election may still be nearly two years away. But the Labour Party has already made a move to promote part of its education platform.

Last month it initiated a Commons debate to set up a parliamentary committee that would review tax breaks for independent schools. The bid may have failed but it is evidence how seriously Labour takes the issue.

It is an issue that matters to the Jewish community because most Jewish schools in this country are independent. There may only be a handful like Kerem or Immanuel College which represent a Jewish version of the English public school: the vast majority serve the expanding Strictly Orthodox community and range from small institutions with a few dozen pupils to some of the larger Stamford Hill schools educating hundreds of children within their walls.

Many, probably most, of these religious schools rely for survival on charitable donations rather than fees paid by parents.

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson argued in the debate that tax advantages such as exemption from VAT currently enjoyed by independent schools were “inexcusable”. If VAT relief were removed, that could raise around £1.7 billion which could be put towards the state schooling.

However, opposing Conservatives contended that the cost of the policy would prove counterproductive. If some independent schools were forced to close as a result of ending their charitable status, the state would then have to find the money to accommodate their pupils in state schools. Private schools currently save the taxpayer around £4.4 billion a year, they argued.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the Labour policy could hit “many settings that serve small, dedicated faith communities, some with lower per pupil funding than state-funded schools”.

These, of course, include the Strictly Orthodox independent Jewish sector. Ms Phillipson said the rules could be drawn up to “ensure that exemptions apply why they should”.

One option would be to differentiate between the elite Eton and Harrow-type public schools and community schools like those in Stamford Hill serving families that are anything but affluent. So the latter would continue to benefit from the charitable status that makes them sustainable.

No doubt more detail will become clearer as the election approaches. But Labour has set out its intentions and organisations such as Chinuch UK, the umbrella body for Strictly Orthodox education, will have taken note.

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