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Comment - Double trouble for private schools

Private schools are facing a double whammy, with the financial crisis and the Charity Commission's public benefit tests both likely to hit those least able to respond.

Bursars and headteachers will be doing their sums as they work out how much of a hit they can take as the recession takes hold. With most schools relying on pupils' fees for well over 90 per cent of their income, a significant fall in student numbers could be disastrous.

While no school will be complacent about the prospects of a severe recession, the famous day and boarding schools are likely to emerge relatively unscathed, with long waiting lists of pupils to prop them up.

It is the smaller schools, already operating on tight margins and without reserves to fall back on, that will worry.

These are also the kinds of schools that will struggle the most when it comes to diverting resources into meeting public benefit tests.

There will be less money available for the mean-tested bursaries and the state school partnerships that the Charity Commission will likely be demanding from all private schools next year.

The timing could barely be worse. Schools will be forced to prove what they are doing to help wider society just as increasing numbers fight for their very survival.

David Marley, TES independent schools specialist.

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