Row over Labour’s private school tax raid as Bridget Phillipson insists class sizes will not increase

Labour’s plan to levy VAT on private school fees will not lead to larger class sizes in the state sector, Bridget Phillipson has insisted.

The shadow education secretary slapped down her frontbench colleague Emily Thornberry, who on Sunday said ending the charitable status of private schools could lead to bigger classes.

Asked about Ms Thornberry’s comments, Ms Phillipson said: “No, I’m afraid that is not right.” And the senior frontbencher said she is happy to have a word with Ms Thornberry about the mix-up “because that is not the position”.

It came after the shadow attorney general was quizzed over the plan on Sunday, saying the tax hike could lead to bigger class sizes.

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She told GB News: “Certainly, some schools that have vacancies – my primary schools and my secondary schools have space and they’re very welcome.

“They are good schools and people should send their children there. I mean, it’s fine, and if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes, we have larger classes.”

The Conservatives immediately seized on the admission, with education secretary Gillian Keegan saying pupils would be hit by Labour’s “politics of envy”.

She said: “Today Labour admitted their tax raid will lead to ‘larger classes’ in state schools, punishing children to pay for their plans.

“It’s not just hard-working parents who will pay the price for Labour with £2,094 of extra taxes, it’s also our children who will be impacted by Labour’s politics of envy.”

But, unveiling plans for 3,000 new school-based nurseries on Monday, Ms Phillipson came under pressure over the apparent admission.

She said overall pupil numbers are forecast to fall in the coming years because of the declining birth rate, warning that some schools would be forced to merge or close.

And asked specifically about whether class sizes could increase, she said: “That is not our policy… I am afraid there has been some misunderstanding there.

“Our policy will deliver high and rising standards right across our schools and will provide significant investment for early years.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the policy will generate roughly £1.5bn a year, which Labour plans to invest in state education, including in recruiting more teachers.

Asked if she would be having a word with Emily Thornberry about her remarks, Ms Phillipson told Times Radio: “Happy to do so, because that isn’t the position that we see at the moment.”

The row was sparked by the latest of Ms Thornberry’s gaffes.

She has previously apologised after busting herself for speeding, posting a picture of the speedometer in a Toyota Prius she was driving to Labour’s 2022 conference at 81mph.

And she quit the shadow cabinet in 2014 after posting a picture of a man in Rochester’s house adorned with England flags and with a large white van parked in front.

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