Earlier today, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner refused to state outright whether Labour would pledge to scrap fees in its manifesto, telling Radio 4’s Today programme to “Watch this space”.
There has been much speculation in recent days whether the party would promise to end the university charges ahead of the General Election.
But McDonnell already announced the policy two weeks ago during a speech in Mansfield, a video acquired by PoliticsHome has revealed.
Speaking to voters in the Nottinghamshire town about education last month, the MP said: “It’s not a commodity to be bought and sold.
“So we want to introduce – just as the Atlee government with Nye Bevan introduced the National Health Service – we want to introduce a national education service.
“Free at the point of need throughout life,” he added. “And that means ending the cuts in the schools at primary and secondary level.
“It means free childcare. It means free school training when you need it throughout life.”
Drawing applause from the audience, McDonnell continued: “And yes it means scrapping tuition fees once and for all so we don’t burden our kids with debt for the future.”
University tuition fees, which are currently £9,000 a year, are set to increase to £9,250 in September.
Referencing the proposed changes, McDonnell added: “They will create a society that is radically fairer, radically more equal and yes, more radically democratic.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to scrap tuition fees in the past.
During the 2015 Labour leadership election, he set out a £10 billion plan to fund university education with increases to higher corporation tax and a 7% rise in national insurance for those earning more than £50,000 a year.
Labour is currently the most popular political party among students, with a poll released last week revealing that 55% plan to vote for the party in the General Election.