Labour’s tax raid on private schools could be no more Billy Elliots

Labour’s plan to impose VAT on private schools could make a Billy Elliot story impossible, the head of the Royal Ballet School has warned.

David Gajadharsingh said the proposed 20 per cent tax was likely to “destroy the opportunity” for talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds and could damage the reputation of ballet in the UK.

In an interview with the Telegraph, he called on Sir Keir Starmer to reconsider the effects of the general election pledge on social mobility and the performing arts, and to exempt children receiving government sponsorship.

The institute currently has 225 elite student ballet dancers aged between 11 and 19 who combine mainstream academic education with intensive artistic training for up to four hours a day.

As one of the best ballet training schools in the world, most of its graduates go on to gain places in the Royal Ballet or other international companies.

Boarding fees – set by the Department for Education (DfE) – are around £30,000 to £35,000 a year and financial support in the form of government and private grants is rigorously tested.

It means that while most children get some help – some have 100 per cent support – most families have to contribute to a greater or lesser extent.

David Ghajadharsingh

David Gajadharsingh said a Labor government could damage UK ballet’s reputation – JEFF GILBERT

When The Telegraph visited this week, Year 11 students were taking a break from intensive ballet training to sit their GCSE exams.

Around them, however, preparations for the start of the main performance season – La Valse at Holland Park, among many others – were underway.

‘It would destroy an opportunity’

Sitting in his office on the stately campus of White Lodge in the lower school, a Grade I Georgian hunting lodge located in the heart of Richmond Park in south-west London, Mr Gajadharsingh, the academic and pastoral principal, could not contain his frustration.

Like independent leaders across the country, he is anxiously awaiting Labour’s manifesto to see how the VAT policy will affect the children in his care.

In the absence of any data, however, he can only fear the worst.

“It would ruin an opportunity,” he said curtly.

“I can think of particular young people who come from ordinary working-class families who love dance, especially ballet, who would never have had the opportunity to develop that interest and love, and who are now professional dancers in companies across the country. world.

“It’s a Billy Elliot story,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is.”

The popular film, released in 2000, tells the story of a working-class boy from the north-east of England with a passion for ballet who fights through the prejudices of his coal-mining community to land a life-changing place at the Royal . Ballet School.

The families that send their children to the school are not rich, for the most part.

In fact, 40 per cent of students have parents with a total income of less than £50,000 a year, and 28 per cent come from families earning less than £35,000.

Because the means test is so strict, less affluent parents pay what they can.

A 20 percent tax raid could push many to the fore.

Risk of ‘rich kids’

“A good number of our parents would not be able to withstand a 20 per cent increase in what they currently provide,” said Mr Gajadharsingh.

The risk is that the school, arguably the cleanest example that can be found, will become an institution for better people.

Or, as the principal said, a place “for rich kids who aren’t even very good at dancing but can afford to come to school”.

The unique infrastructure and staffing requirements of a world-class ballet school have a huge cost base.

In addition to the usual academic staff, a 20-strong healthcare team – which includes physios, nutritionists, Pilates instructors and others – works every day to keep the young athletes safe.

At White Lodge primary school – the upper school is based in Covent Garden – they work in a well-equipped basement room, full of Pilates machines costing £5,500 per unit, weights and special gym and rehabilitation equipment.

Erica Gethen Smith, a former professional dancer turned physiotherapist, explained that the team had recently lost two members, one of whom had gone to work for Chelsea FC, the other to Brighton and Hove Albion.

“I think that made us laugh,” she said. “It definitely shows the quality of athlete we’re looking after here.”

Then there are the dance teachers.

Fine margins

In a large, mirror-lined studio, Larissa Bamber, a former ballerina with the Royal Ballet, led a group of 16 Year 9 girls through their exercises and a professional pianist – the piano classes require live, adding to the cost -. Morning by Edvard Grieg.

The music stops suddenly as Miss Bamber, singing “toes, toes, toes”, marches down the very narrow line of young ballers and minutely corrects the angles of their outstretched legs.

The requirements for making a ballet of the highest standard are limitless.

Costumes are regularly ordered from all over Europe.

Meanwhile, when specialist choreographers are called in to prepare the students for their public performances, the school picks up the bill for their flights and accommodation.

It means fine financial margins.

“Depending on the potential impact of any increase in fees and the subsequent departure of students, we may be in a position that would mean that the quality of the school’s performance results would be affected,” said the Mr. Gajadharsingh.

“I’m sure this is not a good look for any government, especially when it comes to one of the leading performing arts schools in the country.”

Even for non-vocational independent schools, the difficulty of planning a policy that currently has no data is a headache.

But for the Royal Ballet School, it’s a complete migraine.

‘Politics of jealousy’

Currently, 58 per cent of students receive various levels of government sponsorship under the Music and Dance Scheme, but it is not known whether these places will be subject to VAT, and if so, whether they will be covered by the Department for Education.

Then there is the uncertainty around special needs pupils – the Royal Ballet School currently has around 40 on the special needs programme.

“I believe that education should be sacrosanct and protected, and that it is the choice of parents,” said the principal.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that all private schools are Eton or Harrow or Winchester, but they’re not.

“My gut instinct is the politics of jealousy. He will not give them [Labour] the money they want or expect.”

In the entrance hall to White Lodge is a life-size bronze statue of arguably the school’s most famous alumnus, Margot Fonteyn.

Mr. Gajadharsingh shows the middle finger of his outstretched hand, which is brighter than the rest of the statue.

“It’s a tradition we have here,” he said. “Students touch the finger at the entrance for good luck.”

As he awaits the details of Labour’s main policy, he may be tempted to reach out himself.

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