Hefty fees force parents to abandon private schools
British parents are turning their back on private education as independent schools price themselves out of the market, a leading principal said.
Mike Beale, chairperson of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS), was speaking after a survey by the Independent Schools Council, which found that 88 schools were charging fees of more than £20 000 a year. The study also showed that the number of pupils at independent schools decreased for the first time in a decade.
Beale, head of the independent Craigclowan school near Perth, told the association’s annual conference in Edinburgh: ‘I do not believe that price elasticity will forever be on our side. Somehow, we have to innovate in such a way as to square a circle that says, on the one hand, that fees are too high and are thus discouraging potential customers, while, on the other hand, knowing that a much higher proportion of families in Britain would afford private education if they possibly could.”
He said independent schools in other countries operated different systems of funding with governments paying teachers’ salaries and more reliance on private donations.
‘We are not so good at these things,” he said. ‘The challenge is on and if we cannot find solutions parents may well ... seek cheaper alternatives.”
The Independent Schools Council’s study, published earlier this year, revealed that fees rose by just less than 6% at its 1 200 member schools. Pupil numbers were down from 504 830 in 2004 to 501 580 this year, a drop of 0,6%, after nine consecutive years of growth.
Beale also told the conference that parents who refused to say no to their children were making pupils harder to teach. He criticised the notion that families had to be ‘democracies” and said headteachers often had to teach parents to stand up to their children.
The IAPS represents more than 500 private preparatory schools in the United Kingdom and abroad, which educate about 130 000 children.
Meanwhile, schools in the British government’s £5-billion academy programme, designed to tackle educational under-achievement in some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities, were accused of turning their back on poor pupils and ‘cherry-picking” more able children from middle-class families.
Figures show that the percentage of pupils from less affluent families has dropped, in some cases dramatically, at almost two-thirds of academies, when compared with the ‘failing” schools they replaced.
The Guardian looked at all 14 schools for which figures are available and found that eight had reduced the proportional intake of children eligible for free school meals, the standard indicator of deprivation. Recently, opposition MPs and teachers’ leaders warned that the expansion of academy-style schools would create a two-tier education system.
‘The government claims that academies are to serve the disadvantaged, but this suggests a trend in the opposite direction,” said Ed Davey, the opposition Liberal Democrat education spokesperson. ‘If the new, privately managed academies are cherry-picking the better pupils, that will only make the situation worse for neighbouring schools.”
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the findings showed the academies were skewing their intake in an effort to improve results.
‘Instead of changing the school they are changing the children. The children who are likely to depress their test and exam results are unwanted.”
Ministers defended the programme, saying the schools educated a higher proportion of poor children than the national average. ‘Academies are local schools for local people,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills. ‘The code of practice doesn’t allow them to cherry-pick pupils.”—