While we know that our schools are facing a set of unprecedented economic challenges which will put a strain on their finances over the next 12 to 18 months, we must remember that our sector is a strong and robust one that has weathered many storms previously.
Let’s take a look at those challenges and how Scotland’s independent schools can overcome them:
Despite seeing a slight rise in pupil numbers in the wake of Covid due to the excellent way in which schools adapted to the new online learning environment, many had to discount fees to account for pupils having to learn from home. This, combined with the removal of business rates relief following the Barclay Review and the increase in teacher pension contributions, was already putting pressure on the sector coming into 2022.
However, the war in Ukraine and the resulting cost of living and energy crisis not seen in generations and the shrinking UK economy is the biggest issue facing our schools today, as it will undoubtedly leave parents and families needing to reassess their finances, not to mention the soaring energy bills schools will be facing over the coming months.
This makes for grim reading. But as a sector, we are an incredibly strong, vibrant and adaptive one. The figures speak for themselves. According to the latest stats from our annual census, Scotland’s independent schools are home to just under 30,000 pupils, they employ over 3,600 staff and contribute an estimated £300 million to Scotland’s public purse every year.
These numbers tell us that even in times of economic instability caused by factors beyond our control, the sector is facing this crisis from a position of strength. And that is because Scotland’s independent schools continue to provide parents with the choice, diversity and excellence of education that has been the hallmark of the sector for many, many years.
Focus on what we do best
So while these financial challenges are significant, schools must focus on what they do best – offering a world-class education for their pupils, remembering that what matters most in education is the experience of learning itself. The interaction, the challenge, the growth, and the discovery and ensuring the young people in their care, from across the world, are safe, happy, engaged, and informed. Parents will continue to make sacrifices to invest in somewhere where their child is nurtured in this way.
And as a sector, we must continue to challenge the common misconception that independent schools are profit-making machines that exist only for the wealthy and elite of society. Not only is this narrative completely untrue, but it is also dangerous to the future of our schools and to the wider education sector more generally.
While challenging times lie ahead, we know Scotland’s independent schools can look forward with huge confidence because of the product they offer and the people they employ.
Our schools deliver in terms of quality, diversity of subjects, and wrap-around care and provide some of the best education the world has to offer. It is time to promote and celebrate that!