• Friday, June 21, 2024

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Private schools face crisis amid fee hike: report

Some schools are increasingly depending on China

Picture for representation (iStock)

By: Pramod Thomas

FEES for private schools have gone up by eight per cent this year making it unaffordable for numerous middle-income families, with some schools increasingly depending on China, a new report said.

The cost for day-school is around £18,060, and in London, it’s about £22,000. Boarding fees have gone up by nine per cent to nearly £42,500 on average.

During the pandemic, many schools didn’t raise their fees, but they went up by 5.6 per cent during 2022-23. The fee hike, along with Labour’s VAT policy if passed on in full, could push the average fee up by more than a third since the academic year 2021-22.

Labour wants to add VAT to private school fees if they win the next election. The party expects this could bring in £1.6 billion for state schools.

According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), fewer children are going to private schools now. The percentage has decreased from seven to six in recent years due to the intake not matching the growth in the population.

This decrease is compounded by recent entry numbers declining by 2.7 per cent, with a survey indicating that 26 per cent of parents plan to withdraw their children from private schools if the VAT is implemented, reported The Times.

ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon described the current situation as a “watershed moment” for private education, stressing the need for schools to adapt swiftly to political and economic challenges.

He warned that the addition of VAT, alongside economic factors, could have a severe impact on the private education system.

Furthermore, the report highlighted that schools are grappling with rising costs, particularly pension contributions for staff, who make up the bulk of school expenses. Despite this, a third of students receive financial assistance, with a record £1.4bn allocated towards this, though only half is means-tested.

According to the report, the top choices for students leaving private schools in the UK were Exeter, Bristol, and Durham universities, with four per cent going to Oxford or Cambridge.

Private schools are making more money by opening branches in other countries. The census found 129 campuses abroad, up from 107 last year, with 53 of them in China.

In UK schools, the largest group of foreign students came from China. Their number rose from 8,744 to 10,375, an increase of 18.7 per cent.

The proportion of special-needs students has also increased, reaching 20 per cent, while the numbers of teachers and teaching assistants have risen. Private schools continue to excel in academic achievements, accounting for a significant portion of A-level entries in further maths, foreign languages, and physics. Additionally, there’s a growing trend of private schools establishing campuses overseas, with China being the most prominent location.

John Jerrim, professor of education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, told The Times, “The cost of living crisis has seen mortgages go up and, with the fee increase, private education just becomes more exclusive and accessible to fewer. If Labour follows through with its policy, some schools will go to the wall. Parents will be asking themselves if it’s worth the investment.”

In his opinion, universities and private schools have become more reliant on China.

“Universities would be stuck without Chinese money and that risks becoming the case for private schools. It would just take a geopolitical event and they would be in big financial trouble — there are huge risks and the sensible strategy would be diversification,” he said.

Julie Robinson, the chief executive of the ISC, said that independent schools are committed to making fees manageable for families. Despite uncertainties in politics and the economy, the increase in financial aid and collaborative efforts demonstrates that enhancing education accessibility remains a primary focus for our schools.

She noted that the number of Chinese students hasn’t reached pre-Covid levels. Regarding schools opening branches overseas, she said that careful consideration involved in selecting locations, indicating that the presence of numerous campuses in China reflects the significant demand for high-quality British education there.

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