Full Fact: claim fee-paying schools save taxpayer £20b is wrong

Janet Downs's picture


It was splashed over The Times front page*: Fee-paying schools ‘save the taxpayer £20 billion’.   Full Fact investigated and found the estimate used by the paper was much lower: £3.5 billion.

The Times used figures from a 2018 report by Oxford Economics (OE) for the Independent Schools Council.  They are reproduced in the ISC 2019 Census.   

OE estimated how much extra it thought taxpayers would have to pay if all fee-paying pupils were state-educated: £3.5 billion.  It also estimated how much it thought fee-paying schools contributed to the UK economy.   The Times added estimates together to reach a total ‘taxpayer saving’ of £20 billion.

Full Fact found the way The Times reached the figure of £20 billion ‘taxpayer saving’ was ‘wrong on many levels’.

The Times has changed the headline above its on-line article and issued a correction.

The £20 billion claim isn’t the only OE estimate that could be challenged.  Citing the OE report, the ISC says:

‘…if ISC schools had not existed for the past 70 years, it is estimated that UK GDP would be £62bn lower per annum.'

OE used OECD analysis of the 2015 PISA tests to reach this conclusion.   But OE's reasoning is flawed.  OE assumes the performance of fee-paying pupils moved to state education would have fallen.    Consequently, OE said, they wouldn’t have been able to access high-paid jobs and would have contributed less tax.  It’s odd to assume that highly-paid jobs would have been less well paid if all UK pupils had been state educated since 1948. 

PISA test results from 2015 were applied retrospectively over 70 years.  Much has changed since then.  And while it’s true OECD analysis** found pupils in OECD countries attending public (state-funded) schools scored lower than those in private schools, it found the situation reversed when taking socio-economic status into account: pupils in state-funded schools outperformed those from private schools.  


*26 April 2019.  The front page is shown by Full Fact. 

**Downloadable here. See page 39.


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