THE front-runner candidate for Scottish Labour leader has called for private schools to lose their charitable status.
Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale unveiled her plans to strike independent schools from the charity register amid claims they receive tax breaks without opening access to poorer applicants.
Dugdale announced her proposals at the launch of her campaign to seize leadership of the Scottish Labour party following Jim Murphy’s resignation.
But independent school chiefs have branded Dugdale’s move as “gesture politics” and warned that her proposals could jeopardise funding available to poorer students.
Dugdale made a set of “bold and radical” proposals at the launch of her campaign on Saturday.
The charity status of Scotland’s independent schools means that they enjoy an 80% reduction in non-domestic tax rates, whilst state schools must pay the full amount.
A Holyrood petition last year found that charity status saved Scotland’s top independent schools hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But Dugdale said: “I would end charitable statues for private schools.”
She went on: “Given the problems our schools face just now and the lack of resource that they have and they’re sat beside other schools, particularly in this city – 21% of kids in Edinburgh go to private schools.
“I don’t criticise any parent who send their kid to private school – at the end of the day they want the best for their children and you can’t criticise anyone for that.
“But they shouldn’t be at an advantage from the get-go. We have to ensure that every single child in Scotland can realise their potential, and that is not happening just now.
“It’s a national scandal.”
An inquiry by charities watchdog the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) recently allowed private schools to keep their charity status after claims that they were too exclusive.
John Edward, of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said Dugdale’s plans would restrict access to Scotland’s top schools.
He said: “She will be narrowing access to independent schools. The independent schools won’t shut, it won’t make any difference to how they operate.
“It is a purely symbolic gesture because our schools at a conservative estimate contribute £250m in exchequer benefits never mind anything else.”
There are currently between 600 and 700 students on full scholarships from independent schools across Scotland, with many more on partial bursaries of 20-30%.
Mr Edwards also said that Dugdale had had “zero consultation” on the issue.
“She’s the only spokesperson of education who never agreed to a meeting with us in all the time she was in the job.
“I’m not conscious she’s ever set foot in an independent school so I don’t know how she knows about that.”