James Heappey Weekly Column

In the Wells constituency there are three independent schools: Millfield, Downside and Wells Cathedral School. Sidcot is just over the boundary. All four schools attract pupils from all over the world making education one of our local economy's biggest exports; local hotels do well from the hundreds of rooms booked each year by visiting parents; and millions of pounds are spent annually with local coach hire companies, food suppliers, building contractors and myriad other services.

More importantly though, there are well over a thousand local people that work in those four schools. Indeed only Clarks currently employ more people within the Wells constituency than Millfield. These jobs won't just transfer over into the state sector, many of them are associated with boarding activities, delivering specialist teaching and coaching, or looking after the large cohort of international students.

So Labour's newly announced policy to abolish private schools must be resisted not as a defence of privilege, which is how Mr Corbyn would like to interpret my column this week, but as a defence of the driver at Sidcot that lives in Axbrdige, the boarding house supervisor at the Cathedral School that lives in Wells, the cook at Downside that lives in Chilcompton or the groundsperson at Millfield that lives in Glastonbury.

Yes the schools must do more to show the way they support the local community, partner local state schools and the number of children they accept on bursaries and scholarships. Their charitable status rightly depends on them doing lots of those things. However abolishing one of our biggest exports, some of our biggest employers, and the drivers of so much local economic activity isn't class war, it's just an outright attack on our local economy.

If you're still not convinced, remember that Mr Corbyn also wants to seize the assets of these schools. You may not shed a tear for private schools but what other private property will be in his sights thereafter?