The UK’s independent schools are having a torrid time in the downturn, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. At a conference in Liverpool yesterday, the teachers’ union warned that up to 30 have closed or are planning to close in the coming months, largely because cash-strapped parents can no longer afford their fees. As times get tougher, the union reckons that the managerial and financial weaknesses of these institutions are becoming increasingly obvious...
Take redundancies, for example. Hundreds of staff have apparently been made redundant as a result of these school closures, and that’s not really a situation that these establishments are used to. As a result, they often won’t have proper redundancy policies in place: many apparently only pay out at the statutory rate (i.e. a week's wages for every year of service for below-40s, rising to 1.5 weeks for older staff), which seems an odd state of affairs given that teachers in this sector usually get a better deal than their state counterparts.
It’s no surprise that independent schools are under the cosh. Their income is dependent on rich parents being able to fork out the fees, and after the events of the last year or so, there are a lot fewer rich parents around. And it’s also not surprising if this is exposing a few managerial flaws. People who know how to run a business in a climate like this are few and far between in UK plc generally, let alone in the education sector. And many have never faced challenges like these – hence why schools that have been open for hundreds of years are being forced to close their doors.
Of course, we shouldn’t get too carried away. The Independent Schools Council has played down the ATL’s concerns, suggesting that many of its members are doing just fine, thanks very much. And even if these figures are right, it only represents about 1% of the sector. After all, most parents will wait until they’re down to their last breadstick and humous pot before they pull their kids out of school.
Still, like all managers, school administrators have to raise their game. The ATL is talking about long-term strategic plans and stress tests, but that may not be enough to save them all – which raises the intriguing prospect of consolidation within the sector. Cultural issues often seem to be ignored in corporate M&A, but it could be even more of a minefield when two schools merge. How will the kids react when their sworn local enemies turn up in inter-house competitions? No more jolly hockey sticks then, we suspect.
In today's bulletin:
Gordon Brown gives green light to Budget plans
JD Sports scores 9% profit rise
Much to learn for school managers as closures mount
British workforce getting older - and sicker
MT Breakfast Debate: The silver lining to Recession 2.0