Dulwich College, in South London, one of Britain's best known public schools. (Rebecca Naden/PA Archive/PA Images)
Private schools in the UK, for some bizarre reason, are subsidised in the same way as charities.
Yesterday, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Raynor rolled out plans to tackle this, suggesting a Labour government would take away their charitable status and, with the money earned from a new VAT charged on school fees, provide every state primary school child with a free lunch meal.
With the whole issue causing controversy among privately-educated journalists, I decided to cut through the rabble and speak to people who'll arguably be the most affected: parents. To do that I went to Dulwich, the national capital of mums.
VICE: So what do you think of what Labour have proposed?
Erica: My initial reaction is that it's fair, in the way that, if you've got money to pay for a private education, then you can afford that little bit more to subsidise the government. But at the same time, why should you subsidise other parents and what the government hasn't provided? It's a tricky one.
Susanne: I think my view is that, as a parent now, I went to a state school, but I want to send my kids to a private school. And I'm just an average earner, I guess. It seems that there's good intentions there, but – while it's true a lot of parents who send their kids to private schools are wealthy – there are private schools in the country that are much more affordable. Dulwich College down the road is £30,000 a year. VAT on top of that would be another £6,000.
Do you think this could be a ploy from Labour to get people reliant on the welfare state, leaning left earlier? Little Fidels and Engels in our midst?
Susanne: It could be a factor. You look at Margaret Thatcher – known as the "Milk Thief" because she took away free milk from school kids. That made people from a young age be Labour voters because the Tories took away the milk from children. Of course it can plant a seed. But that's more about the parents. You don't know what kids are thinking.
And that's what makes them so dangerous.
Erica: Let me be clear: I don't think that it's too much to expect to give all children the basics of life. We should do this, but let's get it from somewhere else, maybe.
So what do you think about Labour's proposed new policy?
Carrie: It's really difficult. I think it should be means tested. It's a wonderful idea, and I absolutely think there are families who need support, but I don't necessarily think that's the case with all families. I've probably changed my opinion on private schools quite significantly since being in London. Living up north, it was very much you never dream of private school; it was very much for a certain group of people. Here, people fight very hard to send their kids to private school. So to penalise them – to say, "Pay for my daughter to eat free, when we can afford [to pay for her meals]", I don't know.
Catherine: Shouldn't it be the government's [responsibility] to be paying for school meal tickets, etc? If you make the choice to send your children to private school, then it's a private decision. That's the point of it. It's the government who should be providing for families who can't afford to pay for primary school meals. I didn't even know you had to pay for them? Saying that, private schools are gigantic commercial operations that currently aren't treated that way.
It's backed by the National Union of Teachers.
Carrie: That's a great sign.
Well, you say that, but the head of the NUT is called Kevin Courtney. Can we trust a Kev?
Carrie: I think there's plenty of respectable Kevins out there.
Catherine: Kevin Keegan?
Carrie: The guy from Grand Designs – Kevin McCloud.
You trust Kevin McCloud? Lord help you.
Catherine: I do trust teachers. They're at the heart of everything, so if they back it, it's a good sign.
So Labour are looking to take away charitable status from private schools and use the VAT to pay for all primary school kids to get free meals. What do you think about that?
Suzanne: I don't think I agree with that. Hang on, let me try and word this properly: I just think higher earning families get taxed enough. Everything is taxable. Everything. So I think to then add VAT onto education, I don't think that's right. You're getting punished – that's a bit of a severe word – because you can afford to send your kids to private school, you're then having to pay for other children's school meals, and I don't think that's fair.
Especially when; we feed them one moment, and the next we'll probably have a load of fed young kids streaming on their bikes and all sorts into our area?
Hmm… I think maybe there are things that people may think, but wouldn't voice about too much. But yeah: why should other families – just because they can afford to send their kids to private schools – have to feed my children?
Do you send your kids to a private school? Or do you wish you could?
Oh god, I wish I could, yeah. And if I did have to pay fees, to then pay VAT on top of that to pay for state children's lunches, I would be miffed. Lower class families get enough help from the government. To then add that on, it's unfair.
So, Labour's proposed policy. Give me your two cents.
Camilla: Okay, so private school fees are already cripplingly high – I send my kids to private schools – and all that will happen if Labour do this is that people won't be able to afford private school fees any more. There will be a massive influx into the state system, they won't have enough spaces and the whole system will come toppling down. It's a ridiculous idea. Twenty percent! It's just crazy.
What's the opinion among mums at private school?
Obviously no! We can't afford VAT too.
Would you trust Jeremy Corbyn to babysit your children?
Good god, no.
What can you see happening, within ten minutes, if he babysat your kids?
You mean, actually, physically babysitting my children? They would run rings around him. As do most people, I should suspect. Like the PLP, say!
That's a really good point. And which member of the PLP do you think your child is like?
Erm… sorry? Is this still part of the interview? In principle, I do think it's a good idea and all children deserve a meal, but it depends what the meal is, too. I did look at some of the state meal options recently, and they're actually better than what my children get offered in the school. The state schools are getting better food!
Does that make you frustrated?
Not with the state, but the private school.