The Independent Schools Conference: Addressing the Biggest Issues Facing Private Schools

Independent schools face a lot of problems in today’s climate. Rising operational costs, changing pension requirements and competition from high-performing state schools are all issues you need to address. 

Independent schools and their staff need to be up-to-date with the modern demands of education as well as more innovative ways of ensuring financial stability. In this blog, we’ll also talk about a helpful event you can attend, The Independent Schools Conference, which covers many pressing issues for private education today.

So what position is independent education currently in?

Delivering Education Through Pandemic

Quite possibly the biggest pain point for private schools at the moment is their financial situation, as operations and cash flow is hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The expected summer fees will be either delayed or reduced and will be directly affected by any decreased parental income. 

Currently, because of the economic restraints the country is feeling, several schools are now planning to shut. They are suffering because of:

  • Parental frustrations.
  • Lack of new students.
  • Fee freezes.
  • Non-returning pupils.

Independent schools need strategies in place to remain financially stable. It’s wise for independent schools to contact financial advisors if possible to determine initial adjustments that can be made to mitigate the risk. At the same time, teachers and faculty need to alter curriculum deliveries to fit with the possibility of leading off-site teaching. 

Independent schools need to consider the following:

  • Areas of potential savings.
  • Equity funding.
  • Advice on financial management.
  • Government funding - including CBILS, CLBILS and job retention scheme.
  • Mergers and acquisitions, in case schools are considering merging or being acquired by other organisations. 

There has also been a pivot towards providing a blended delivery in terms of curriculum, in that many classes are now being held off site and online. Schools are having to come up with ways to retain engagement and teaching standards while physically unable to teach children in a classroom.

Similarly, a concern for international and domestic student numbers has also risen. For example, if the pandemic were to subside, restrictions on international travel may still be up for some time. Because of that, independent schools are missing out on a large chunk of their income. 

The Rising Costs of Delivering Education and Remaining Relevant

There’s increased friction between school fees parents must pay and the overall cost of delivering a well-developed curriculum. As the costs of the latter rise, so too do the costs of the former. This is also combined with the need for independent schools to remain relevant when they cost more than state schools, who can often rank better in grades. The question is - how do independent schools remain the go-to?

Similarly, as inflation increases, independent education is becoming more and more expensive. As the number of parents able to meet the costs decreases, independent schools find themselves with lack of liquid cash flow. Private schools will always have issues with fundraising where it may be difficult to provide a strong case for support or have the confidence in leadership to gain funds.

Similarly, independent schools have to make a strong effort to remain compliant with the Independent Schools Standard. While not obligated by law to follow this guidance, every inspector sent by Ofsted or ISI will specifically look for where compliance is met. This is an extra financial burden.

Remaining relevant is also an issue, as independent schools face calls to become more open. Private education has also been seen as the ‘root of inequality’, so there is large call for improvement within providing a more accessible service.

Changes in Scotland

Up until only recently, independent schools in Scotland enjoyed a 20% relief on their bills, but will now be charged full business rates. This could mount up to a £37m bill within the first five years of practice and also means they will lose their charitable status relief. 

Independent Schools and Financial Reserves

Many independent schools reside within older or listed buildings that need proper care and maintenance. Similar issues such as access and transport links can present problems, as well as budget constraints.

Many schools simply don’t have the financial reserves to meet these issues. Even if they do, building or maintenance work can run over time and budget, eating into precious capital and even disrupting studies.

Commercial Demands and Estate Management

A school’s senior team needs to be ever-more aware of the changing demands that come from external sources. Changes to the UK’s economy, current political issues and market changes all need to be adapted to, meaning senior teams are under increased pressure to be commercially astute. 

Knowledge of these prevalent and rapid changes, as well as implementing a long-term financial strategy is a good way of ensuring the continued work of any educational establishment. Senior management should also consider more radical, progressive methods of running their estates. There should also be consideration for having a member of the Estates and Facilities on the senior leadership team (SLT). This helps generate first-hand input from the team at the front-line of building management.

Issues Facing Teachers’ Pensions

Independent schools have recently faced a wave of strikes from teachers as up to one in 10 institutions plan to leave the government-backed Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS). The increase in employer contribution, from 16.48% to 23.6%, has been hailed as ‘unaffordable’ for most schools. 

It’s an awkward position to be in for schools who can’t afford the increase as teachers are left with less favourable pension schemes. 

A Department of Education (DfE) spokesperson stated: “Independent schools have the option to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and some schools have exercised that option. However, we would encourage independent schools to remain in the scheme so teachers can continue to move between the public and private sector.”

This means a number of independent schools, mainly smaller institutions, are struggling to keep up with this increase. 

So how can independent schools learn about the remedies to their current situations? GovNet Events will be running a conference aimed at driving excellence across independent schools throughout the UK and bringing the Headteacher and SLT community together, to share ideas and best-practice solutions. Read on to find out more.

The Independent Schools Conference

As we see more and more issues affecting the work independent schools carry out, it’s worth staying abreast of the most up-to-date information out there - especially for those working in this sector. As there are over 600,000 students in the independent schools’ sector, there are a lot of young people who are relying on a more adaptive educational model. 

This means it’s more important than ever that independent schools deliver cost-effective learning experiences and deliver value for parents’ money. There’s also a growing focus on how independent schools fit into the country-wide educational system and their role in the future of education.

These are all issues that will be discussed in the Independent Schools Conference. The event will cover many different areas of focus for those working in this sector, such as teacher retention, funding and access, partnerships and collaborations and pastoral care. 

Click here to find out more information about the Independent Schools Conference.

However, if you’re looking for more information on how independent schools can meet these challenges, explore our helpful download.

Guide on the State of Higher Ed