It’s January, which means we are currently being bombarded with messages about losing weight, getting fit or embarking on a ‘dry January’, following the extreme excess of the festive season. And just when you think you might be safe reading something that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve overindulged, we talk about trimming the excess too!
In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a variety of changes to the sector, but the tail end of this year indicates a real sea change for us. We’ve had plenty of challenges presented to us, but one thing is abundantly clear; the best schools are future-proofing.
There is no doubt, when you look at the political environment, the odds are stacked against us in the independent sector. With impending challenges such as increases in Teacher Pension costs, potential VAT on fees and the likely removal of business rates relief, it is imperative that we plan well in order to ensure financial sustainability, which of course means trimming the excess.
There are some very definite themes emerging with the schools we’ve been working with recently including:
Schools are looking at their costs at a micro level. Those that are not planning to cut costs, are certainly looking to stabilise them and the focus on finances has most definitely heightened. Keeping a close eye on the competition, schools are very aware of the need to remain competitive and demonstrate real value for money.
With affordability continuing to cause great concern, we’ve seen Millfield School reduce its fees by 10% urging others to follow suit, whilst Scholar 6 have made headlines by identifying a gap in the market for an affordable independent sixth form education, set to launch in 2020. But with costs rising, schools face a real dichotomy.
We’ve seen a number of headlines recently indicating that independent schools will have no choice but to hike their fees and the ISC have warned that the increase in pension costs could damage the education sector as a whole.
Whilst many schools are considering their options when it comes to TPS (see our next article), we’ve also worked with a number of schools, who are bringing a fresh approach to parental research. The most forward-thinking schools are asking their parents and pupils what aspects of their school are most important to them, in order to identify where they can streamline their provision and offer more competitive fees, opening up a wider section of the market.
Collaborating & Evolving
An increasing number of single-sex schools have transitioned to coeducational or diamond models, recognising the potential of doubling the available market. Many schools have also merged to form small groups, enabling them to pool resources, facilities and teaching staff.
Measuring price elasticity and Demand & Supply forecasts have always been services that are in demand, but it is clear that this demand is rising in the sector. Scenario planning, based on various likely political changes have also come about and many schools are already preparing for VAT on school fees.
In summary, the focus for 2019 is very much on creating a sustainable future for independent schools. Affordability has long been an issue for the sector as a whole and with the increasing pressures we’ve discussed, remaining competitive is vital. My advice is to remember that you are satisfying the needs of your parents and pupils and understanding them should be at the heart of every decision you make.
Wishing you every success for the year ahead!
James Leggett, Research Director