Bridget speaking at a conference
Bridget speaking at a conference

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Politics is about choices, often tough ones. It’s something the Prime Minister continues to tell us on a weekly basis. The choices we make define us as politicians, and define governments.

Rishi Sunak knows this only too well: his decision to slash the number of schools to be rebuilt has seen children across the country being taught in portacabins, or under steel girders to stop the roof falling on their heads. It will be felt for years to come.

It’s not just the condition of the buildings that show schools are in a sorry state. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and too few are being recruited to replace them.

More and more pupils are now persistently absent from school, stuck on mental health waiting lists and missing crucial learning. Attainment gaps are growing among the youngest children, gaps that only grow as they progress through school. The bond of trust between schools and families has broken down.

The reason these problems go unaddressed is simple: education is simply not a priority for Inaction Man Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives.

It’s not their children being taught under steel props, not their children in draughty portacabins, not their children who are struggling under the weight of a growing mental health crisis or having their life chances curtailed because there aren’t enough teachers in their classrooms.

Labour would make different choices. We have a plan to drive up standards in all our state schools for all our children, with 6,500 new teachers, access to mental health professionals in every school, dedicated careers advice and early speech and language interventions.

And we will pay for that by ending tax breaks for private schools.

I won’t have any truck with Conservative claims that to do so would be to attack aspiration. To say is that is an insult to the aspirations of millions of families up and down this country whose children go to state schools. Do the Tories think they do not also dream of better for their children?

I am impatient to get on with our mission of breaking down barriers to opportunity for young people. That’s why we don’t need to get bogged down in the complexities of changing charitable status: we just need to end the nonsense that sees private schools exempted from tax that other businesses pay.

Our plans have been shown time and again to be popular and have the backing of families up and down the country who want to see their children receive a brilliant state education. It’s crucial if we’re to spread opportunity across our country and make sure that background is no barrier to getting on.

Be in no doubt: Labour will deliver our plans by ending these tax breaks, but so could the Conservatives, at a stroke.

That’s why I’ve written to the Education Secretary setting out our plans and challenged her to back them. If they do, they will have Labour’s full support. It’s time to show that the Conservatives care about other people’s children, not just their own.

Bridget Phillipson is the shadow Secretary of State for Education.

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