‘I will ask you one more time’: Labour schools row erupts as Isabel Webster grills Wes Streeting

‘I will ask you one more time’: Labour schools row erupts as Isabel Webster grills Wes Streeting

WATCH: Wes Streeting defends Labour's schools policy

Ben Chapman

By Ben Chapman

Published: 11/06/2024

- 09:15

There has been confusion over Labour's flagship schools policy

Wes Streeting was forced to defend Labour’s plan to levy VAT on private school fees this morning on GB News.

Confusion was sparked when Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said it may lead to larger classes in state schools due to the projected number of pupils that would leave the private sector as a result.

The Shadow Health Secretary told Isabel Webster that Thornberry made an “honest mistake” as he was grilled on the matter.

Isabel probed: “Your shadow attorney general admitted that your 20 per cent VAT on private schools could lead to larger class sizes in the state sector.

Isabel Webster and Wes Streeting


“Sir Keir Starmer said she got the policy wrong. Just explain to us where exactly these children are going to go as parents decide they simply cannot afford this huge hike in private fees.”

Streeting was quick to defend the plan, claiming some of the “horror stories” that have emerged are not likely to materialise.


“What we’ve done is look at the tax breaks that private schools enjoy, looked at the challenges in our state schools and we’re going to plug that gap by ending the tax breaks on independent schools”, he said.

“We don’t believe that is going to increase class sizes in state schools.

“Let’s bear in mind that independent school fees have gone up above inflation every year for more than a decade. These schools are now pleading poverty and saying it will be a disaster.

“I just don’t buy it.”

Camilla Tominey and Emily Thornberry

Emily Thornberry 'made an honest mistake' during her GB News interview with Camilla Tominey, according to Wes Streeting


Isabel hit back: “We’ve seen inflationary rises over the years but not in such a huge way as Labour are proposing to do.

“I’ll just ask one more time, where exactly are all these children who will no longer be in the private sector be schooled?”

Streeting said independent schools will have to “cut their cloth accordingly” as a result.

“I suspect that, because they are businesses, they will not set their price point at a point that will see the number of pupils fall”, he added.


Sir Keir Starmer


“They are businesses. They have a business like approach to their fee setting. Look at the demography of our youth cohort now, we are seeing a decline of children in state schools because of demographic trends.

“We won’t see class sizes rising, I actually think what independent schools will do is not pass on this cost to parents. They will cut their cloth because businesses rely on numbers.”

Questioned on whether Thornberry’s suggestion was wrong, Starmer replied: “Yes.”

“We’ve had the analysis by the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) on this, which says that there’ll be a negligible impact. So we’re very confident about that.”

The IFS think tank has said the policy will generate roughly £1.5 billion a year, which Labour plans to invest in state education, including on recruiting more teachers.

“Bridget has got it right and Emily didn’t get it quite right,” Sir Keir also told LBC Radio. “Bridget is obviously the shadow secretary of state on education, and Emily just got the lines a bit wrong there.”

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