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Independent Schools 

Challenges for independent schools in 2018/2019

I see a lot of school Bursars and Business Managers and the general feeling at the moment is there are lots of challenges in the sector as senior leaders look to future proof schools as a business. To me there seems to be some common themes running through all my conversations. 

Competition: There has always been tough competition within public schools with high regard put on academic standing. However, with the recent investment in the state sector and a number of parents struggling to meet the fees, academy trusts are now attracting families away from the independent sector. 

Running costs: There is a growing tension from parents as fees continue to increase, throughout the UK fee increases have exceeded inflation rates as they want to see value for money in the education that they are receiving. There are also large costs associated with running large estates and historic buildings. Many schools do not have the financial reserves for backlogged maintenance, and further developments and are highly reliant of third party providers in order to patch up the buildings and fire fight problems. 

Estates management: Good estates management is part of the jigsaw of running a highly successful school. For most schools their properties and estates are the most valuable asset, yet so many people I speak with too neglect this area. Many schools have previously relied upon third party provision and haven’t the expertise in-house. This is something that is changing and we are seeing estates experts coming into the team which help schools manage their estates. 

Additional revenue opportunities:Many schools are looking at opportunities that can create a surplus or subsidise the running cost. Raising funds form letting facilities outside of term time and out of hours can be hugely beneficial to a school, but also very costly if done wrong. We are seeing a raise of Commercial and Events Managers in the sector that are looking at new innovative ways to create additional income. 

Talent attraction:There is a changing landscape for school’s senior leadership teams, Bursars have to be commercially aware and ensure that an institution is future proofed. Long term financial strategies need to be in place. Long gone are days of the Bursar being an expert in all matters, Todays Bursar is more of CEO role and needs to have a team of experts across estates, operations, commercial, Marketing and IT. Schools are struggling to attract these skills sets from the private sector. 

I think that we will continue to see these challenges over the next few years as school’s leadership teams lay the foundations in order to ensure a sustainable future.

Hayley Mintern, Director (Estates and Facilities Management).