LABOUR’S plan to charge VAT on private school fees has been criticised by a qualified teacher standing for the Lib Dems.

Catherine Fookes, who is standing for Labour in Monmouthshire – home to one of Wales’ top independent schools Haberdashers’ Monmouth – said the impact of raising VAT on fees charged to parents would be up to the schools. 

Labour candidate Catherine Fookes
Labour candidate Catherine Fookes (Labour)

But Lib Dems candidate William Powell says the tax raid could see private schools cut their involvement in the local community, and more pupils being sent to already overloaded state schools.

Many private schools say they are already cash-strapped with falling school rolls, and VAT payments may well have to be passed on to parents, driving some away.

Lib Dem candidate Mr Powell said he wanted to clarify that Labour was opposed to “taxing education”. 

The languages teacher, who has taught in both state and independent sectors, said: “I oppose any attempt to undermine parental choice – especially when it could impact further on class sizes in state schools.” 

Mr Powell said he attended his local state school, near Brecon, and his own children attended a local comprehensive near Abergavenny. However, he said raising VAT on fees could mean private schools doing less in their local communities.

He said: “As we already see in Monmouthshire, independent schools often give back to our local community in accordance with their charitable status.  

“Liberal Democrats want to see this sort of best practice become the norm across the sector, with sharing sports facilities, theatre spaces or specialist teachers; mentoring schemes for teachers and pupils; higher education support; debating clubs as well as bursaries and scholarships.

“Under Labour’s proposed regressive policy, all this great partnership work would inevitably be the first thing that private schools cut back on – and everyone would therefore be the loser.” 

Labour’s candidate, who is also a Monmouth ward county councillor, said she has already met with the headteacher of the town’s Haberdashers school, and defended Labour’s policy. 

Ms Fookes, who has been a governor at Monmouth Comprehensive, said she recognised the independent schools in Monmouth as “part of our community” and added they “contribute to our local economy and are used by many families.” 

She said: “A UK Labour government will levy VAT on private schools, end their business rate exemptions and spend that money improving standards and opportunities for the over 93 per cent of children attending state schools. 

“I have already met with the headteacher of the Haberdashers school as I know that if I am elected, I would need to represent all the residents in the community, no matter where they go to school.

“No additional costs are required to be passed on to families by independent schools. That will be a decision for them to make.” 

Labour has said additional funds from VAT on fees would support recruitment of 6,500 new teachers in England, and new teachers in Wales. 

Ms Fookes said she wants Labour to “drive high standards in all our state schools” and said: “Our Welsh Labour Government has been doing this with one hand tied behind its back.” 

Mr Powell said the Liberal Democrats want a “fairer funding formula for Wales” which he claimed would deliver more money than Labour’s planned VAT rise.

He also said the current VAT exemption applies to all education provided by “an eligible body” including universities, music lessons and tutoring sessions. 

Figures from member association the Independent Schools Council show there are 7,304 pupils attending 19 independent schools in Wales in 2024, the lowest number of any part of the UK other than the north east of England. 

Full list of candidates standing in the Monmouthshire constituency: 

  • Ian Chandler, Green Party 
  • David TC Davies, Welsh Conservative 
  • June Davies, True & Fair Party 
  • Catherine Fookes, Welsh Labour 
  • Owen Lewis, Independent  
  • Emma Meredith, Heritage Party 
  • William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrats  
  • Max Windsor-Peplow Reform UK