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State headteachers fear Labour private schools VAT could mean bigger classes

State school headteachers do fear that they could be left with larger classes because of Labour’s plan to introduce 20 per cent VAT on private school fees, i has been told.

The leader of the largest state secondary heads’ union – the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – Pepe Di’lasio said that increased class sizes could be one of the “unintended consequences” of Labour’s flagship policy.

The union, which also represents some private school leaders, is calling for more research into the consequences of the private schools tax plan, before it is implemented.

Its intervention follows comments on the impact of the policy yesterday from Labour Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry who said that “it would be fine if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes”.

This morning both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, and Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson, said Thornberry was incorrect, as they sought to shut down the row.

But now Di’lasio has said the headteachers are worried about the impact of the policy on class sizes and was clear that he was speaking on behalf of his state school members.

“We’ve been asking for there to be more research in the consequences of policy and we’re still yet to see the evidence of what might be happening as a result of them implementing it,” he told i. “That would need to be considered carefully before it was implemented.”

The union has more than 25,000 school leader members and also represents some state primary heads.

Di’lasio said class sizes had “grown” over the last decade due to funding pressures on schools and that headteachers would be “making decisions over where they can reduce them, but also where they can afford them to be for them to be bigger”.

He said: “Everyone’s worried about the implications for not having enough money to do the job in the way that you want to be able to do it, and with all of that, you’re having to make difficult decisions. One of those may be on class sizes.”

Asked whether his members feared increased class sizes could be one of the unintended consequences of Labour’s VAT policy, he said: “Yes, definitely.”

Labour is planning to add 20 per cent VAT to independent school fees as “as quickly as possible” Starmer says, if it is elected, to raise an estimated extra £1.6bn for pupils in the state sector.

But critics have warned the policy could prompt an exodus of pupils from private schools as some parents will no longer be able to afford the fees, adding pressure onto an already-stretched state sector.

Asked about Thornberry’s comments, this morning Phillipson told Times Radio: “I am afraid that just wasn’t right.

“Actually what we are seeing across the state sector is a falling number of pupils in our classrooms because of the falling birth rate, and there are fewer young people arriving at school.

“So, actually, we are going to be in the position pretty soon – and it is already the case in places like London – where schools are merging and closing because of falling numbers.”

But asked whether falling birth rates had meant falling class sizes Di’Lasio told i: “That’s not something that we’re we’re hearing from our members at the moment.

“I know that she’s right in that there are falling birth rates, but birth rates are very geographical. So there will be some schools that still got large intakes, that are oversubscribed, and there will be other schools, perhaps in rural areas, that have got much smaller class and will be struggling with their budgets right now.”

But Starmer said Thornberry was “wrong” to claim that that Labour’s private school tax  change would mean bigger state school classes.

Labour was contacted for a response to ASCL’s comments.

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