Low-cost private schools ‘just waiting’ to enter English market


Companies that run for-profit private schools overseas are “waiting” for the right opportunity to set up in England as the market for low-fee schools becomes more promising, say investors.

The future of private schools overseas was at the centre of a conference in central London last week run by Education Investor magazine.

Panellist Paul Vincent Cable, co-founder and chief executive of EnSo Impact, which runs two low-cost, for-profit schools in Kenya, told Schools Week the company was now “looking at” doing the same in England. It was waiting for the right location to come up.

Current private school fees average £13,500, but can rise to £30,000 a year.

Cable said fees could be reduced by between a third and a half by reducing staff costs and allowing technology “to deliver some aspects of the lesson” through pupil-centred learning and a tablet for every child.

An application for a low-cost private school was submitted to the Department for Education earlier this year. The Independent Grammar School Durham, which will cost parents about £2,900 a year, is waiting for approval to open in September with 100 pupils.

The school, which will offer a “traditional grammar school education”, may need to open in January next year, however, if forced to wait for approval, says Chris Gray, a former head who submitted the application. So far it has garnered 58 expressions of interests from parents.

The school will offer a traditional grammar school education

Mark Roelofsen, a co-founder of the International and Private Schools Education Forum, which holds conferences for education investors, said the free schools programme was also inspiring would-be founders of low-cost private schools.

Free school applicants who had refurbished old offices and set up on brownfield sites, while maintaining “high quality education”, had helped investors to “gain confidence” in the potential of low-cost private schoaols, he said.

But other investors said even at £6,000 a year, companies would struggle to deliver better educational outcomes for pupils than parents could get free in a local state school.

Henry Warren, a former director at Pearson and former chief information officer at Mwabu, an education technology start-up focused on the African market, said it was “harder to make the case for private tuition” when the UK spent a lot on state education. Adam Nichols, founder and managing director of Schole, which also runs low-cost private schools in Africa, agreed, saying English state education was “pretty good”.

The UK government spends about £4,800 a year on a primary pupil, and about £6,200 on a secondary pupil in England, according to research by Professor Francis Green of the UCL Institute of Education, previously reported in Schools Week.

Unions have not welcomed the prospect of low-cost, for-profit private schools expanding in the UK.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said £6,000 a year was still too expensive for many families, while Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT, said the long-term sustainability of the low-cost, for-profit model was also “in doubt”.

Jose Rodriguez Cesanas, director of Sovereign Capital, which specialises in investment in the education sector, said property, facilities and staff costs in the UK were still too high for the model to work.

The UK wanted to avoid international “horror stories” of private schools collapsing where fees had been set too low compared with costs, he said.

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    • Mark Watson

      That is your opinion.
      But you are a self-styled “state school campaigner”. Everything you say and write is informed by this. I’ve never seen you say anything about academies and private schools that is not 100% hostile. Conversely I have never seen you criticise local authority run schools. I’m trying not to be rude (truly I’m not) but you seem to be as objective as the most ardent DfE lobbyist arguing that academies are the silver bullet that will magically make everything better.
      Your position here is symptomatic of this. You don’t think low-cost private schools are needed. That’s fine. That’s your opinion and of course you’re 100% entitled to it. However some people won’t agree with you. They may support the idea of low-cost private schools and indeed want to send their children to such a school. Even your own article on LSN pointed out that “academics are divided about whether LFP schools are the answer to educating the poor” – so some think they do, some think they don’t.
      I don’t know whether these kind of schools are the answer, and I’m certainly not banging the drum for them. But I do know that if I was a parent in Durham I’d be happy there was another option for me to look at, even if I decided against it. I believe in choice. I don’t think you do (but again, that’s my opinion).
      So yes, use the platform you have to explain your opinions, but stop telling us what to think.

  1. Sarah

    I guess it depends on your views about what education is and is not. Mark you clearly embrace the idea that choice and therefore diversity of provision is a good think i.e. you see education as a commodity where the impact of competition is to raise standards. Unfortunately you offer no evidence to support such a position and instead sit on the sidelines shooting down every attempt to challenge this underlying principle of current education policy. If however you hold the view that education is a public service where collaboration between providers and some form of centralised management of the supply of places is what drives success then of course you are going to see no need whatsoever to further fragment the system. There is nothing wrong with challenging the bias of others as long as you are clear about your own and hold your own arguments to the same level of scrutiny as you appear to demand of others. Where is the compelling evidence that choice drives standards?

    • Mark Watson

      But this is precisely the point. I don’t have a political or an ideological standpoint that dictates whether I support Model A for schools or Modal B. Like the vast majority of the population I don’t really care whether a school is an academy or a maintained school, a comprehensive school or a grammar school, a CofE school or a community school.
      What I care about is that as a parent I want the best for my child. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
      So my standpoint is that I DO think choice and diversity is a good thing. I want to be able to look at my child and be able to choose the school that’s best for him. I live in Gloucestershire – if he turns out to be very academic then quite frankly I’ll look at grammar schools. If he’s sporty I’ll look at schools that have great sport provision. If I end up with great wads of cash I’ll look at private schools. But here’s the difference between me, and what I see as your and Janet’s position – I’ll look at these different types of schools but I’ll choose whichever one is the best, no matter what kind of school it is. I might have all the money in the world, but if my local school is just right for him then he’ll go there. He might be the brightest kid in the county, but if he’d do better in the comprehensive system then that’s where he’ll go.
      I’m not an educationalist (if you had any possible doubt as to that!). It’s not up to me to formulate policy or try and prove that Model A is better than Model B, or vice versa.
      In fact what I have said on these pages should make abundantly clear that I don’t think ANY model is inherently better than another. I think some specific academies are really good, and also that some LA schools, free schools and grammar schools are great. I also think that some academies, LA schools, free schools and grammar schools are not good enough.
      The point I try to make when I reply to posters like yourself, and Janet and Opal, is that I only see you take every opportunity to bash academies and, to a lesser extent from some of you private schools, simply because of their status. You don’t seem to care about whether what they are doing with their pupils is good or not, simply the fact that they are an academy is enough to damn them. Equally there is no recognition of any deficiencies whatsoever in how local authorities run schools. The recent ‘debate’ about Craig Tunstall’s salary is a classic example of this.
      You ask me what evidence I have that choice drives standards. The answer is none. But the question of whether I want to have a choice where I send my child is a personal one and I am entitled to have my own opinion on it. I want to have a choice as to where I send my child, not have it dictated to me by anyone. And I’ll wager that the vast, vast majority of the population feels the same way.