PARENTS who send their children to private school are facing a hike in fees after ministers scrapped relief on business rates.

The move means schools in the independent sector will be hit by an estimated annual bill of some £5 million.

Relief will be retained for special schools serving pupils with additional support needs.

The decision was announced by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay following a recommendation by the recent Barclay Review on business rates.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said the announcement would damage bursaries.

He said: “The changes schools have made since 2006 to merit relief amount to more than £200m alone in means-tested fee assistance to Scottish pupils, alongside very extensive facilities, resources and staff provision for communities, public bodies and state schools.

“This proposal will weaken and narrow the widening access programme and, most importantly, it will impact on those accessing bursary assistance made possible by the reduced rates level.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, described it a “blatant attack” on independent schools, where annual average fees are £14,500.

She said: “For a party supposedly in favour of widening access this will make independent schools more elitist and less accessible.”

A government report on the issue said it would make the system fairer.

It said: “Having listened carefully to views from the sector, we are unconvinced about the principle ... of the current arrangements and wish to take this opportunity to make improvements.

“To be clear, many types of organisations undertake commendable and worthwhile activity, but do not receive rates relief.”

Meanwhile, in state schools, funding to reduce the attainment gap between rich and poor increased from £120m to £179m. There will also be £243m for the expansion of free nursery places.

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said: “This will give more young people an equal chance to obtain the qualifications they need to succeed.”