Low Cost Independent Schools Enter the Market
The name James Tooley is well known on the fringes of the independent education sector. For most of this century, the Newcastle University professor of education policy has been a voice in the wilderness for low-cost “affordable” independent schools.
As ardently as he has advocated an educational model which he has demonstrated with some success in the third world, those who believe they know UK independent schools have forecast that it wouldn’t work here, where costs are even higher than parents’ expectations.
Soon, however, his passionate credo will be put to the test. Although, according to latest reports, the scheduled opening has been delayed, the first school run on his low cost principles is soon to open its doors in Durham.
If – and it remains a big if – it succeeds in attracting parents to choose it, in a region traditionally inimical to independent schools, this “third world” breakthrough would say something about the modern state of Britain, both economically and educationally.
Be that as it may, affordability remains by far the most pressing economic challenge facing independent schools.
With depressing familiarity, the start of this school year was marked by The Times reporting a private bank’s finding that school fees have been rising three times faster than parents’ wages.
The effects are starkly shown in the numbers. Despite the ISC’s cheerfully upbeat interpretation of its annual census data, numbers in independent schools have been, at best, stagnant for a decade and more – this at a time when the total number of children of school age has risen by nearly 10 per cent.
And that’s not because schools are full. I doubt whether there are more than a hundred or so local market-leading schools, even within the golden circle of the M25, which couldn’t find places for more pupils.
So marketing has never been more important. Knowing your market and how it is changing, getting your brand right and communicating its narrative effectively, professionalising your marketing and admissions processes and supporting the staff responsible for them – now is the time to review all this.