There are currently in excess of 2,500 private schools with about 620,000 students between them, in the UK alone, with a vast and diverse mix of students.
Despite the fees, more and more parents are forking out a significant portion of their salaries to send their children to private school. This, in part, is due to total state school spending per pupil dropping to about £6,900 in 2019–20, down from £8,000 in 2009. This represents a drop of 14% in real terms and is partly driven by a large drop in capital spending. With this in mind, many more parents have turned to private schools in the hopes that their children get a better investment in their future. ¹
However, despite the increase in a desire for private school education, there is an ever increasing list of challenges due to today’s turbulent economy. Rising operational costs, inflation, competition from both other private and high-performing state schools, plus the demands of a post pandemic world, means that many private schools have been forced to shut. All of this means that private schools need strategies in place to remain financially stable.
A recent and growing trend in the sector is one of schools exploring the possibility of mergers with other schools. One of the most recent and notable mergers was The Mill Hill School Foundation. Mill Hill School Foundation added Cobham Hall School, an independent day and boarding school for girls, to its existing portfolio of four schools in London, UK back in March 2021. One of the benefits that were highlighted by the merger was a “wider breadth of choice for international agents searching for the quintessential British Boarding school experience”. By merging the two, The Mill Hill School Foundation was able to reduce operating margins, whilst combining the brand and resources of the two well-known schools, potentially attracting a wider audience of prospective parents. ²
As things become more challenging and inflation rises, we predict a rise in mergers as schools feel the pinch brought on by these strained economic times. The decision-making process will involve the consideration of legal, financial, and reputational issues, plus the potentially clashing interests of governing bodies. Schools need to ask themselves whether it is genuinely in the best interests of their school, and the achievement of its charitable objectives, to proceed with the merger, or whether there are other options to keep the business viable.
And with this trend, we are already seeing the support structures change. We’re seeing a wave of industry experts in Estates, Marketing, Finance, HR and business leaders taking on COO roles, with schools welcoming a wider expertise across the sector to drive strategic direction. This is a significant shift change, which demonstrates that schools are having to operate like businesses more than ever to survive in the modern customer focused marketplace.
If you’re a senior professional who is either looking to change direction or for a new role within the independent schools sector, speak to Melanie Pye at The Management Recruitment Group today.