Could ‘no frills’ private schools be the way forward?

News Article

A new “cut-price private school” which is due to open in September 2017 and has been hailed as the first of its kind, plans to charge parents the equivalent of just £52 a week. ‘The Independent Grammar School: Durham’ will set its fees at £2,700-a-year for a “traditional private education without the frills”.

Professor James Tooley, a professor of education policy at Newcastle University who is behind the plans for the new style independent school, said: “This is not necessarily for lower income families, it is for anyone who says private education is far too expensive.

“They often include Olympic size swimming pools, rugby pitches and so on – we are saying that these are not necessary for private education.

“We are saying, let’s get rid of all those and have the basics: high academic standards, strong grounding in mathematics, phonics and languages. It will be no frills and no flash.”

The new independent school will be based in a newly refurbished former church in Durham. The school will have a Christian ethos, but will not be faith-based. It will have an inclusive admissions policy, with children of all backgrounds and no selection tests.

If the DfE grants registration for this new independent school, Professor Tooley has ambitions to open a chain across the north of England. The school’s website promises that its premises will be “simple and unpretentious”, but “clean, hygienic and welcoming”.

Prof Tooley, who has previously established a number of low cost private schools in India, Pakistan and Nigeria, added: “There is always a desire among parents for private education, even those in very poor countries who cannot afford the fees.

“I have given talks at conferences about this, and I am always asked ‘could the same thing happen in the UK?’  “I have been thinking about it for several years and then finally got together with some colleagues and decided to do it.”

The curriculum will be “traditional and knowledge-rich, giving children access to the best of what has been written, spoken and said”.

Luke Morgan, a Partner with Palmers who specialise in debt recovery, said: “This new low cost business model is certainly innovative and many in the independent education sector will be watching with interest to see if the school is able to cover its costs long-term.

“It is no secret that a number of independent schools, which charge much higher fees, struggle to survive in part due to the constant battle to ensure that parents pay on time.

“The new Durham Grammar School plans to set fees at around one fifth of the amount charged by most private schools, yet still remain financially viable. Although it expects to be able to balance its books because it has cut out non-essential luxuries, it will still largely be dependent upon parents keeping to their end of the agreement and not defaulting on their termly fees, in order to remain solvent.

“For any school operating in the independent sector, keeping control of your finances and minimising debt is key to continued liquidity of funds,” continued Luke. “If cash flow becomes an issue, it is important to get advice at an early stage and seeking advice from a legal professional who has experience of both commercial debt recovery and the education sector is particularly important.”

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