Leader: Taxing private schools won’t raise standards

Rod Grant, headmaster of Clifton Hall School, has criticised the narrow-mindedness of government policy. Picture: Jon Savage
Rod Grant, headmaster of Clifton Hall School, has criticised the narrow-mindedness of government policy. Picture: Jon Savage
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The fallout from the Scottish Government budget this week has only served to underline a lack of focus on what should be really important to Scotland in the coming decade.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has been praised in some quarters for tax changes which will hit the middles classes while also delivering a lower basic rate of taxation (19 per cent) than in England.

Job done, many have said.

The reality, however, is that those on the lowest incomes could see a benefit of just £20 a year, which will be quickly eaten up by rising prices.

Similarly, many in his party and beyond have welcomed a move to end business rates relief for independent schools. A quick look at nationalist message boards finds many urging the SNP to take the next step and abolish private schools altogether.

Both these measures may be politically astute. But the bigger picture is that on the economy and on education Scotland is lagging behind other developed nations.

The economic growth forecasts from the new Scottish Fiscal Commission are lamentable and on education we are falling down the international league table.

Solving these issues is what should be important. In a generation, no one will care whether Mackay outflanked Labour on tax. But they will care if his party’s failure to give enough support to spark an economic recovery lost Scotland far more in revenue that might be gained by tax tinkering.

And they will care if we damage a strong private education sector by driving up fees and reducing the number of bursaries available. The worst-case scenario is that some smaller independent schools could close.

Removing rates relief from private schools is petty. We should be giving the same relief to state schools, not seeking to punish our best performing establishments.

Independent schools produce the best results across Scotland year after year. Would it be so wrong for the SNP to encourage the state sector as a whole to aspire to these standards instead of attacking those who are doing well?