Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi came under fire as he appeared to avoid explaining why Eton College, which charges £44,000 a year, deserves charity status which exempts it from taxes.
The Tory MP said to Sky News presenter Kay Burley that 50 per cent of the independent education sector has charitable status, including Eton.
Without saying exactly why Eton should be allowed to dodge taxes, Zahawi added: “I want to see those schools do much more to open up to children from disadvantages backgrounds.
‘Evidence suggests the best way forward’, Zahawi says
“They are doing a lot already, they want to do more with us on our journey which is really my focus, which is a system that is diverse. We have academies, we have free schools, we have independent sector, that’s a good thing I think in an education system.
“They want to do more on that journey, where we get every child to have a great education in every part of the country, at the right time in the right place, but I think it’s also important that they play their part.”
“What does that mean?”, Burley asked.
Zahawi replied: “Well, can we get our independent schools to join us on what the evidence suggests is the best way forward, which is a family of schools that are well-managed, tightly-managed, really well-supported in a multi-academy trust that’s high performing, that we know from evidence delivers the best outcome?”
Political activist Femi Oluwole accused Zahawi of “defending” Eton being allowed to “avoid paying tax” following the TV intervention.
“Let’s do this seriously for a sec,” Oluwole said, adding: “Private schools protect inequality. They ensure some kids have a better shot than others based on their parents’ money, which in turn, means THEIR kids are also more likely to have a better shot.
“No charity should cement inequality.”
He said this is why the argument that private schools take pressure away from state schools is “bullsh**”.
“The money exists in the UK to give everyone a great education. The fact that the money is concentrated among the rich IS THE PROBLEM. It should NOT be the basis of our education system!,” Oluwole noted.
He then went on to foresee comments which could try to discredit him for having done 11 out of his 14 years of school in the private sector.
But he argued there are two types of privilege: “Privilege that thinks it deserves it. Privilege that knows it doesn’t.
“The former claims the system is fair. The latter uses its privilege to try to make it fair,” he concluded.
One Twitter user said Zahawi’s responses were “just waffle to avoid answering the question.”
“With the Tories in power the ultra rich stay that way by not paying taxes meaning that the poorest taxpayers actually subsidise the rich,” the user said.