Private school funds 'shot to pieces', mergers expected

Independent Schools Council chair Barnaby Lenon says impact of Covid-19 on school budgets could force some schools to merge
4th November 2020, 3:36pm

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Private school funds 'shot to pieces', mergers expected

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/private-school-funds-shot-pieces-mergers-expected
Private School Mergers Expected Due To Budgets 'shot To Pieces'

Private school budgets have been "shot to pieces" by the Covid-19 crisis and some may need to merge to survive, a leader in the sector has warned.

Barnaby Lenon told an online conference event today that the number of private schools that had closed in 2020 was double that of a typical year.

The chair of the Independent Schools Council said that, if the country goes into a worsening recession, he would expect to see more mergers of private schools.


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Mr Lenon was being interviewed at the Independent Education live event today online.

He said that, although the majority of ISC schools had not seen a drop in pupil numbers, Covid-19 had affected school budgets.

He was asked what financial toll the coronavirus pandemic has had on the sector - through fees being frozen or discounted, or bookings and lettings being cancelled.

Mr Lenon said: "Essentially, everyone's budgets for 2020-21 are shot to pieces. Now for some schools, they managed to get in a reasonable amount of income over the summer, they already had a decent surplus so they are fine - but others that were operating on very small margins are less fine."

He revealed that across the ISC's 1,300 member schools, there had been a 1 per cent drop in pupil numbers.

Mr Lenon added: "But this small decline is being driven by much bigger declines in boarding schools but particularly international boarding schools.

"There are a small number of schools where all the pupils come from abroad and clearly some of them are down by 50 per cent, especially if they took a lot of pupils from China for example, because most of the Chinese pupils have not yet returned.

"Since March, about 40 independent schools have closed - but in a normal year 20 would close, and all [those] that have closed are small, some very, very small and pretty well all of them were in some financial difficulty already, so the pandemic simply presented them with an opportunity to either merge with someone else or sell the company.

"Overall, the situation is much better than we would have predicted back in March but it's still unfolding."

'We don't yet know the full picture'

Mr Lenon said: "I am making this recording in October and the furlough scheme is still running so we don't know what things are going to be like in the next six months, but we can assume there is going to be a worsening recession and more unemployment.

"My guess is, if you are asking me about the future, I think that there will be more mergers and that schools that were quite marginal will find themselves looking to take action and mergers are an obvious way of doing that."

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