One in 10 private schools may have to close as a result of financial pressures heaped on them by coronavirus. Some schools have already told parents they will be increasing their fees to recoup extra costs, although fees will be frozen for next year.
Independent schools have faced a cacophony of woes this year. Almost all are offering discounts while they are shut during the pandemic – some by as much as 50pc – yet they are still having to pay staff wages in full and cover all their running costs.
Eton College, for example, has reduced its fees by a third for this summer term despite having ongoing operating costs of about £66m a year.
Seven private schools have closed as a result of the crisis, according to the Independent Schools Association, which represents more than 500 institutions. Hundreds more are likely to follow suit and 10pc of schools could be wiped out, said Leon Hady, an ex-headmaster who now runs Guide Education, a teacher training business.
He added: “The true impact will be revealed when schools start reopening. Lots of parents will be too scared to send their children back or will have decided to continue homeschooling them instead. My children are all at fee-paying schools and we definitely won’t be sending them back this term.”
Some parents will be unable to send children back even if they wish to, as certain schools will not be resuming bus services because of concerns about sanitising them, Mr Hady said.
Private schools will also face a blow to pupil numbers, as many overseas parents may be unwilling or unable to send their children back to Britain because of travel restrictions. Melanie Sanderson of The Good Schools Guide, which rates schools, said she was particularly worried about small, undersubscribed independents outside London and the South East.
There are about 2,400 private schools across the country, meaning more than 200 would disappear if Mr Hady’s prediction came true. Parents who withdraw their children will still have to pay autumn term fees, as they must generally give a full term’s notice before withdrawing a pupil.
Although some schools are raising fees, Ms Sanderson said she did not imagine this would be widespread: “Fee inflation has been so huge over the past decade, if schools go any further they will price themselves out of the market – particularly as plenty of parents will be worse off now.”
She said it was a very real possibility that many parents would decide to homeschool their children. “You save on fees, uniforms, school buses and trips. We pay around £1,000 a term for our children to take the bus to school.”
Private schools were facing difficulties even before the crisis, owing to increases to the cost of teachers’ pensions, which have caused some smaller institutions to close.