Attack on private schools is misguided
The politics of envy is writ large in Councillor Douglas Chapman’s polemic on private schools (Letters, 14 January). His hyperbolic rant – there can be no other description – is clearly the result of a certain ignorance of the subject matter.
As a product of both state and independent sector, let me attempt to enlighten him.
First of all, and I suspect he will not disagree, the provision of education is de facto a public benefit, no matter who provides it. The independent sector plays a big part in educating future leaders in all walks of life, including his own sector, politics – just look at the current Scottish Government Cabinet.
Second, the independent sector takes more than 30,000 pupils out of the state system, pupils for whose education the state would have to pay otherwise.
More than this, those parents who choose to send their children to private school still pay for state education via their taxes, in effect subsidising the education of others.
The state sector would be hard pressed to cope if all of these children returned. It would demand a significant increase in both teaching staff and infrastructure.
Third, he implies that the independent schools are only available to the “rich” (without, conveniently, defining what he means by rich).
If by “rich” he means forgoing holidays, cars, dining out and the latest technological gadgetry in order to provide a decent education then he is spot on.
Others may put the education of their children further down the list of priorities, which is their choice and is fine. Don’t think that most parents with children in the private sector can afford everything else – they can’t.
A final point: Cllr Chapman fails to suggest what would become of private schools if they did lose their charitable status.
Well, let me tell him: they would become commercial limited companies, transformed from non-profit-making charities into money-making entities, with shareholders seeking the normal dividends and profits that accrue to commercial concerns. Fees would go up and there would be no need for scholarships and bursaries to accommodate the less well-off.
They would find an increasing number of their pupils from abroad – Scottish education is an “export” revenue stream for the economy – and would change from being Scottish schools to be “schools in Scotland”.
In short, they would become even more exclusive and elitist than he seems to think they are already.
No parent, myself included, pays for private education on a whim. We do so because either local provision is not up to scratch or because we are looking for more than the standard state curriculum provides.
In an ideal world, none of us would seek alternative education because the state sector would provide appropriately.
But for many of us it doesn’t. Perhaps that’s the conundrum to which Cllr Chapman should direct his attention, rather than intellectually incoherent ideological attacks on private providers.
Gullane, East Lothian
Councillor Douglas Chapman clearly has a whole hive of bees in his bonnet in his rant against private education.
Calling the tax breaks for private schools “obscene” is over the top. He might have a point if the cost of private education could be offset against income tax, but it can’t. Parents who send their children to private schools already pay income and council taxes, so in effect they are paying twice over for education.
We live in a society which, rightly in my view, allows people to spend money on all kinds of things that might be frivolous or even harmful to them, but makes it difficult and expensive for people to spend on such matters as education or health.
Worse still, over the years I have noted a growing tendency among correspondents in The Scotsman to see tax breaks, or being exempt from taxes or duties, such as the remission of fuel duty for bus services, as being a “subsidy”.
Taxation is not a fact of life, and not everything should be taxed. A subsidy arises when the state or a local authority actually provides money to allow an uneconomic activity to go ahead.
The real culprits are the jobsworths at the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), who have abandoned neutrality and are applying political bias to their work. They should be replaced immediately.
Councillor Chapman’s diatribe against private schools might read better were it not for the fact that the Scottish Government admits that 25 per cent of the Scottish adult population is functionally illiterate. Hardly anything for the state system to be proud of.
For this reason alone, even if the charitable status of private schools was abolished, they would still thrive.
Also, many parents who send their children to private schools are not rich at all, as he wrongly assumes. They make sacrifices to ensure a better future for their children. Something a socialist could never grasp.
It was inevitable that the latest self-justifying attempt by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in picking out several private schools as not meeting the “public benefits” required of retaining charitable status would be supported by the predictable ultra left-wing cries of outrage over their very existence.
In referring to “huge tax breaks”, “tax breaks for the rich” “tax the nation is foregoing”, Councillor Douglas Chapman conveniently ignores the fact that parents of these children are already paying through the tax system for their education – in effect double taxation.
How much does he imagine the tax breaks of an element of rating relief and exemption from corporation tax amount to?
Has he considered the value of public benefit already bestowed by these schools?
What would be the cost to the taxpayer if all these children were transferred to the state system?
Is it perhaps not time that these elements were costed? I am confident that the net result of such a costing would show an enormous tax saving to the taxpayer by the continuation of charitable status.
But, of course, that would not satisfy the extreme left-wing agenda of Chapman and his ilk.
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