Cost of fees 'may mean more private school closures'

'Affordability' of fees in the wake of coronavirus crisis could see more schools going out of business, warns sector leader

Catherine Lough

private school

More private schools could be forced to close following the coronavirus crisis because of their high fees becoming less affordable, a leader in the sector warns.

Christopher King, chief executive of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS), says that fee-paying schools in financial difficulties would be "tipped over the financial edge" as the news came that a third IAPS school – Minster School in York – had closed due to the crisis.

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Mr King says more schools could announce closures because of both financial pressures from Covid-19 and the cost of their fees.

"I don't think that there will be necessarily many closures of schools between now and September, but there could be more announced during the next academic year," he says.

"The concerns will arise because of the fundamental affordability of private education.

"Committing to pay school fees over a long term is a decision that people don't take lightly.

"Once they enter into it they, by and large, want to commit over a long period of time and they will only do that if they feel pretty secure in employment."

Boris Johnson's former prep school, Ashdown House in East Sussex, has also announced it will shut at the end of the summer term because of financial challenges owing to coronavirus.

The news comes as there are reports from senior sources in the sector that 30 per cent of private schools could close because of Covid-19.

And yesterday, Tes reported that the number of private schools leaving the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) had risen by 50 per cent since November 2019. Costs of the TPS are not covered by the government for independent schools, and employer contributions rose by 43 per cent since September, meaning that they represented a "substantial financial burden" for schools, according to Mr King.

"We’ve now had notification of a third IAPS school to close, citing Covid-19, but really citing Covid-19 as the final straw that had broken the camel’s back," he tells Tes.

"I actually think that the more difficult situation could be revealed when we get to September…schools are uncertain about their recruitment for the next academic year, there’s a big question mark hanging over that."

Mr King adds there is also concern among boarding schools about whether the number of international families choosing to study in the UK will drop amid Covid-19 uncertainty.

Approximately 10 private schools have announced closures in the past few months, while others have begun discussing mergers, the leader of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) says.

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the ISC, says the sector may not know the true impact of the Covid-19 crisis for many months – and it may depend on how the next school year starts.

"If we can get back into school soon, it becomes a temporary blip. The longer it goes on, the more of a concern it is," she says.

She adds: "We know schools are considering their financial situation. Of course, they're watching this really carefully and they're having to plan for several different possible scenarios going into the next academic year. It's a time of anxiety for the parents and for the school."

Ms Robinson adds that the impact on the independent school sector during the last economic downturn was delayed as parents did not withdraw their children immediately

"A lot depends on how we go into the next academic year and it'll probably be another year before we have a good, clear idea of the extent of the effects of this crisis," she says.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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