Every year brings new challenges to the independent schools sector, with the threat of VAT the most topical. Whilst all schools should of course be aware of the potential implications, I believe the introduction of VAT on fees to be unlikely. The recent article in The Guardian stating that ‘Private schools save £522million in tax thanks to charitable status’ neglects to illustrate that there are 580,000 children in independent schools which the tax payer is not funding c£5,000 each. I would suggest a £2.9 billion saving in return for £522million tax break is good value for the government…
What is harder to escape this year is the raw numbers of children using our schools. The 2017 ISC census received a muted delivery whilst DfE census data for England shows numbers have remained static since 2015, which is back to the levels of 2008/9! This is set against the backdrop of a growing population with children in schools increasing by 7.5% since 2010.
“More concerning within the ISC report was the decline in numbers at the key entry points of Nursery (-0.9%), Reception (-3.0%), Year 3 (-2.7%), Year 7 (-0.1%) and Year 12 (-3.7%) and it was notable that the largest cohort was Year 11.”
So how can we ensure a sustainable future for our schools and regain market share?
- Firstly, detail your core value proposition – why should families join our school when there is a free alternative?
- Second, make sure your school is running efficiently and is the right size for the market you serve.
- Third, make sure you have indicators in place to monitor outcomes. We live in a world defined by data and it is easy to become blinded by it, so start with only what you need.
- Fourth, manage and monitor your admissions pipeline. Just because numbers are good this year, how do they look for next year and in five years’ time? What is your conversion rate from enquiry to enrolment?
At MTM, we fully appreciate the needs of schools are changing, and we are evolving our team to support that. All this data is good to know, but what does it actually mean and what do you do about it? Even multi-nationals like Siemens outsource expertise as they appreciate they cannot have skills in every area.
As such, we have assembled a team of experts to help support you in making the decisions most crucial to your school, like how the declining birth rate will affect your markets or how to ‘right size’ your offering.
Despite a reduction in market share, actual numbers in independent schools have increased. Continuing to understand your market and creating a strategic plan, informed by data, will ensure your school ongoing success.
Looking ahead and planning for the future will ensure your school is fully prepared. My father always told me “In business there is no such thing as standing still, only moving forwards or moving backwards”.