Independent schools are being advised that they should capitalise on the financial difficulties of their state school rivals to attract more parents.
With state education facing swingeing cuts, there will “never be a better time” for private schools to seize the opportunity and cut their fees, according to Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council.
His comments came as Tony Foot, director of the Department for Education’s Education Funding Group, acknowledged that “the next few years are going to be highly challenging” for state schools.
Mr Lenon believes that the independent sector should take advantage. “Now is the time to reduce your fees,” he said in a speech offering advice to private school heads.
“Inflation is essentially zero and state schools are having their budgets cut over the course of this Parliament by between 8 and 15 per cent. So, your rival state schools are definitely going to be cutting back on teachers and staff,” he said.
Mr Lenon, who was head master of Harrow School for 12 years, said that the cuts will also prevent state schools from investing in new buildings that could make them more attractive to parents. That, he said, offered the feepaying sector an opportunity, particularly in less affluent areas.
“If you’re a school that is worried about your local grammar school, let’s say, you can be pretty sure that they’re not about to embark on some grand building project. They’re not about to start offering lots of minority subjects,” Mr Lenon said.
He said that one of the main ways that they could reduce their fees would be to cut teacher numbers and increase class sizes.
“Personally, I would say to a private school that is looking to control their costs, the first thing you need to look at is class size, because there is no obvious relationship between class size and performance, despite what parents may think,” he said.
But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, which represents both state and independent school staff, said that the idea of sacking teachers to increase class sizes was “absurdly short-sighted” and “like cutting off your nose to spite your face”.
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This is an edited version of a story that appears in the 29 January edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here