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State boarding schools could lose pupils over forced fee rises

State boarding schools that have opted to become academies could end up losing pupils because the government is forcing them to make an 8 per cent profit on their fees, a leading headteacher has warned.

New rules from 2015 mean the 23 state boarding academies will have to make the surplus in order to pay for capital projects such as new boarding houses.

But this will mean the schools will have to charge parents more, and some may decide it is just too expensive to continue to pay, said Melvyn Roffe (pictured), head of Wymondham College in Norfolk.

There are 37 state boarding schools in England and Wales, which provide free education, but charge fees of up to £10,000 to pay for the boarding.

They have experienced a boom in recent years, with new academies, such as Wellington Academy in Wiltshire, offering boarding facilities.

Holyport College, a new boarding free school set up by the private Eton College, which is due to open in September, has already proved extremely popular with parents.

Headteachers have been campaigning for some time for the freedom to make a surplus in order to improve their buildings and facilities.

Mr Roffe, former chairman of the Boarding Schools' Association, said in 2012 that two-thirds of the schools had not received funding for building projects for two decades and risked becoming “at best behind the times, at worst inadequate”.

But the latest solution provided by the government – to compel schools to make the 8 per cent surplus on fees – was too restrictive, he told TES today.

“We can’t understand how a pragmatic conversation about how to run boarding has turned into an obligation which means we might lose boarders as a result.

“It’s incredibly galling that we have lost autonomy and it risks doing damage to recruitment.

“Even a £9,000 a year boarding fee is quite price sensitive. We’ve tried to keep fees to a mimimum, but we will have to put 8 per cent on the fee.”

He added that parents were not pleased with the news, as he had assured them when the school became an academy it would have no impact on fees. The rule change does not apply to non-academy state boarding schools because that require a change in the law.

The head is leaving the state sector at the end of the year, becoming principal of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh.

He has claimed that academy status had failed to bring the autonomy the schools had hoped for and that there was too much "micromanagement" from central government.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the levy would “create improvements for both the school and its pupils”.

He added: “But Academy Trusts have the freedom to choose specifically how it is spent. This could include renovating accommodation or supporting more disadvantaged children through bursaries.”

Related stories:

At best behind the times, at worst inadequate: Nov 2012

"Let them to eat cake": June 2010

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