International investors could be set to buy out English independent schools facing closure owing to coronavirus, Tes has learned.
Sector insiders have warned that hundreds of independent schools could face extinction by Christmas due to loss of revenue following school closures amid the pandemic.
But Chinese investors could be about to line up in a "feeding frenzy" following high-profile takeovers of English private schools last year and while the pound is weak.
Coronavirus: Hundreds of private schools 'bust by Christmas'
Julian Fisher, senior partner at Beijing-based education consultancy Venture Education, said: “Chinese investors have not been put off by the current pandemic – if anything, it has accelerated the process.
“We were approached two weeks ago by a large property company from the south of China with explicit interest in purchasing a UK school and again this morning from a company in the north.
“The pound is weak, many UK schools seem open to sale and, like many things in China, it seems that the high-profile purchase of a few UK schools in 2019 has set a precedent for investors that may become something of a feeding frenzy.
"In most cases, the purchase of UK schools is mainly about the potential to expand the brand back in China with full control."
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, potential Chinese investors have been seen as the “salvation” of struggling private schools without being in danger of “diluting” their English character.
The Independent Schools Association (ISA), which represents 540 schools, says schools nearer London are seen as more favourable.
ISA deputy chief executive Peter Woodroffe said: "They'll do a business case, especially if a school has facilities for boarding and is within a couple of hours of London."
Last week, sector insiders warned how independent schools were being forced to reduce fees for pupils now being educated at home, while some schools said they had furloughed staff not knowing whether pupils would return next term.
Mr Woodroffe said the 80 per cent of independent schools which were charitable trusts "might not be as quick to adapt" to business challenges as those run as private businesses.
He added: “The charities are not as willing to make the hard decisions where as the private businesses have stakeholders.”