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Prep schools closing - worried my kids school may close with little notice

(75 Posts)
ABetaDad Wed 18-Feb-09 08:30:45

I am starting this thread because I know a lot of parents on here have kids in private Pre-prep and Prep on here and I wanted to get a sense of just how bad things are financially in the Prep school sector and give you a heads up on what is happening to my kids school just in case it happens to yours.

My DS1 and DS2 go to a nice small prep school and we are very happy with it. I have been talking to other parents and am shocked to hear that so many of them are planning to take their kids out by September. I am not sure the school knows this yet but I estimate that next year they wil only have 2 kids remaining out of the current Year 1, they will only have 5 out of current Year 2. I expect very few to join as my DS1 was showing parents round at the recent open day and there was only 1 child visiting who was eligible for Year 1 or Year 2.

The nursery and Reception years will be fairly full as will Years 4, 5, 6 although a few are planning to withdraw on those years as well. However, I know that Year 7 in the senior school had a big drop off in numbers last year. It seems that at the key transition stages parents have already been deciding to take their kids out or not put them in. With the credit crunch now affecting jobs much more severely I can only see this getting much worse.

There was a very interesting article in the Financial Times Yesterday about a Prep school that had been forced to close in Sevenoaks. Read the article here:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f4e835c-fc93-11dd-aed8-000077b07658.html

A key sentence in the article is this:

"I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg," said Sue Fieldman, an editor at the Good Schools Guide. "There's much more coming in the next six months . . . a huge number of private school parents are in financial services and banking."

All prep and senior private schools will know for sure by the end of March what their numbers are going to be next year and I know that many schools have closed in the last year and only given 1 term notice to parents.

There is possibility my kids school might merge with another local Prep and sell off one of the sites but that is not certain to happen and parents have certainly not been given any information.

I am trying to put together a plan just in case it happens.

Is anyone as worried as me? Do any of you have the experience of it happening? What are your plans if it happens to you?

I know a lot of people on here disagree with private schooling but I would like to try and keep this thread away from 'private v state' arguements. Having a school close and then being forced to move kids at short notice is very disruptive and stressful for everyone so I hope we can swap info on here as I am sure schools wil delay telling parents as long as possible.

Warning: Please please do not name schools directly or say where they are as we do not want to start unfounded rumours.

Hulababy Wed 18-Feb-09 08:38:05

DD goes to a very small prep school with very small class sizes, etc. There have been the odd few leave but this has not been to do with current financial climate but for reasons such as moving out of the city or country. We have one very very small class but the reasons behind that were from before the financial problems and were accounted for ifrom other reasons.

Round here I haven't heard of any schools having to close, and there doesn't seem to be any problem with regards the financial climate.

I am not concerned about DD's school closing.

Maybe if we were down south and the school parents were relying on big bonuses from their jobs to fund the fees it may be more f an issue.

twentypence Wed 18-Feb-09 08:41:25

My son's school is fuller than it was last year.

3 people left his class - they were replaced immediately from a waiting list.

All the places are full in year 7 and 8.

Some of the cars in the car park are a little older or a little less flash, but there has been no mass exodus.

Dottoressa Wed 18-Feb-09 08:42:49

DS and DD go to a prep school with around 250 children in total. I do know of children leaving because their parents have got jobs elsewhere - but, equally, other children join because their parents have relocated up here. I am not aware of anyone leaving for financial reasons at our school or at any of the others in the area. If anything, they're over-subscribed (though not in DS's year - but that was to do with a low birth-rate in the city generally - it's the same across all the schools). The state schools are either a) still as rubbish as ever or b) massively over-subscribed if they're any good; and parents on the whole are not going to withdraw children from school unless they are really, really desperate. I really hope it doesn't happen to you, and that someone can advise you better!

janinlondon Wed 18-Feb-09 08:55:18

At the HMC it was reported that only 0.2% of pupils had been withdrawn in the last year because of financial difficulty, and that about 2% of schools are concerned they may not be able to weather the storm. So you would be pretty unlucky to be in that category. Fingers crossed that your school is okay.

happywomble Wed 18-Feb-09 08:58:04

Abetadad - is your DCs prep linked to a senior school? If so they may be ok with a few small year groups lower down.

I think it depends a lot on where you live as to how things will go..I think in areas where there are enough good state primaries it will be harder for the private prep schools to attract people in the current economic climate particularly in reception-yr 2.

If you are happy with your DCs school I would stick with it for now. Maybe have a back up option in mind in case anything happens to the school.

scienceteacher Wed 18-Feb-09 09:00:04

There is always a revolving door in small schools.

We don't have a waiting list in our school, but we've had lots of new children join. It seems that we have a new girl every week or two.

If a family suffers financial hardship, I think the school would work of a deal for them to stay. If there is no waiting list, it is no loss to the school to have non-paying pupil.

MollieO Wed 18-Feb-09 09:01:52

no problem at my ds's school thank heavens. They have increased in size for my ds's intake. They have put a freeze on capital projects to ensure fee increases are kept to a minimum.

How horrible for you. I can't imagine anything worse than having to think about changing schools if your children are happy where they are.

From what I've read some parents are moving from smaller schools because they are worried about them closing so it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

LIZS Wed 18-Feb-09 09:02:59

There was an article a few weeks back in the times about schools being up for sale. How is yours set up (charity, owned by head etc)?

SueW Wed 18-Feb-09 09:14:31

This article was on our staff room wall for a while about schools closing. It's from last Nov.

LIZS Wed 18-Feb-09 09:44:08

here and here. Which has closed in Kent ?

happywomble Wed 18-Feb-09 10:36:50

abetadad - I think it is going to be hard for you to get a true picture of prep school numbers on this thread. People are unlikely to reply if they have similar worries to you in case others work out which schools they are referring to.

So I wouldn't imagine yours is the only school with low numbers in a particular year group or two.

deepinlaundry Wed 18-Feb-09 10:54:27

Abetadad- that link didn't work for me- which school was it? I am in that area and had to pull all three of my dcs out of their schools.

LadyMuck Wed 18-Feb-09 11:07:13

I guess that prep schools with single form entry are at most risk. The dcs school is 3 form entry, and if a year went low they could probably go down to 2 form.

I guess the more interesting question is why are people leaving a particular school. We had a local RC prep school which was due to close at Easter. Basically parents were concerned about 1 or 2 teachers in particular and felt that they weren't getting good teaching so they transferred their children to another school. Nothing to do with credit crunch factors at all, but of course once a few parents withdraw, especially in a single form school then the economics dramatically change for the school.

I'm afraid that I still don't quite buy the whole "bonuses funding school fees" line. I think that that is just a media stereotype. Half of ds1's class have parents in finance and no-one has been particularly hit yet - some are even doing particularly well due to promotions. It is redundancies and not bonuses which will force people to change schools.

I want to move ds2, and I have 2 other local prep schools in mind. Both have significant waiting lists (to the extent where I've been told not to bother parting with the £100 registration fee). I guess if you wanted an indication of what was happening locally then you can phone a couple of other schools and see what the waiting list position is?

MollieO Wed 18-Feb-09 11:27:53

My ds's school went from a single year entry to two forms for the first time because of the demand for places. The other school in our area apparently had a long waiting list (that is what they told me) but then were calling people the month before the start of term offering them places. Some children withdrawn but locally it appears it will have a bigger effect at secondary level with people choosing state alternatives rather than continuing to go private.

Litchick Wed 18-Feb-09 11:34:24

Ladymuck - same here. We live on one of the biggest commutor links outside of London and the majority of parents at DCs school schlep into the city everyday.
I don't know one person who has been made redundant or who is making alternative arrangements.
It seems to me that the people suffering from the credit crunch are shop workers and agency workers of the min wage. Plus ca change.

LIZS Wed 18-Feb-09 11:42:23

I think the impact of reduced bonusses and redundancy in the financial sector will only start to have an impact from September. This term will be paid for and earliest to give notice without penalty will be Easter, at which point any potential fee increases will be know. Although many people will say they pay fees out of income (see other thread) they will probably also have some capital reserve available as a back up, but it may mean that other areas (holidays, cars etc) will be casualties first. We're now wondering if it will be the Year 7 and 8 intakes of Secondary independents which will be affected more than those at prep since fees tend to be greater after transfer. Hence prep schools which cater ot 13+ may benefit short term.

deepinlaundry Wed 18-Feb-09 12:00:26

Abetadad- which school in sevenoaks? I have been googling obsessively and can't find anything on it.

LadyMuck Wed 18-Feb-09 12:12:41

A large number of parents have also benefited from a drop in mortgage payments - at least one parent I know can fund this year's fees just from the interest rate cut (well assuming that it lasts another few months).

Plus for all of the news articles on prep schools shutting - this isn't a new trend. Small schools open and close fairly regularly don't they?

I'm hoping that spaces will open up in September, but as LIZS says it is necessary to wait until Easter.

The other "trend" which may be a very local one is that there was a very high take-up at the local senior day schools for the 10+ this year (whereas usually from our prep school entry would be at 11+ or 13+). As the fees are £4k per year higher, I would guess that some parents are still willing to pay for faciities etc.

LadyMuck Wed 18-Feb-09 12:14:43

The Sevenoaks school was Fawkeham House - it had less than 60 pupils.

ABetaDad Wed 18-Feb-09 12:18:29

The school in Sevenoaks was Fawkham House School. I think it closed last summer.

Sorry the link did not work. The article is fairly short so I hope no one minds that I pasted it below.

The private school owner - Crisis takes its toll
By Daniel Pimlott

Published: February 17 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 17 2009 02:00

Rosalyn Coulstock owned a small but fast-growing private nursery and prep school in Sevenoaks that was just making ends meet until last summer.

Then disaster struck. As fears over the economy mounted she was unable to raise money from investors in the school. Nor could she refinance a large mortgage on the property as the turmoil in commercial mortgage markets from the credit crisis took its toll.

In June Mrs Coulstock, 55, had to shut Fawkham House School, which doubled as her home, and turn away its nearly 60 pupils. She and her husband have lost not only the business that she had built up since the early 1990s but also their home and she is confronting large debts and legal fees.

"Our life's work is gone - everything," said Mrs Coulstock. "I don't know what we're going to do, to be honest."

The sudden collapse of Fawkham House could become an increasingly familiar story as other schools that have invested during the boom come face to face with a recession that is likely to hit such institutions hard as cash-strapped parents forgo private education.

"I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg," said Sue Fieldman, an editor at the Good Schools Guide. "There's much more coming in the next six months . . . a huge number of private school parents are in financial services and banking."

Prep schools and nurseries are expected to be hit harder, because the state primary system is seen as an acceptable alternative even by parents who would resist sending their offspring to a state secondary school. Boarding schools, too, are likely to suffer because of the greater expense involved.

The downturn in the sector may not be immediate - parents tend to resist taking their children out of schools unless there is no other option. But families could soon face a turning point, as many schools require one term's notice to withdraw children and the summer term would provide the final opportunity to pull out before a new school year starts.

The change is already evident at South Farnham School, a state primary in Surrey, which sends about a third of its pupils on to local private schools.

But this year, many more parents are looking at state secondary school options, while applications to come to the school are up 5-6 per cent, according to its head, Andrew Carter.

In this environment, private schools are preparing for the worst.

scrooged Wed 18-Feb-09 12:21:16

I'm moving my ds into the state system, I telephoned my LEA last week, the lady I spoke to laughed when I asked if there were alot of people moving their children, she said loads! It's not looking good. Maybe these schools need to be more flexible with the fees if they want to survive.

deepinlaundry Wed 18-Feb-09 12:22:19

Thanks- I hadn't heard of it, it was tiny.

Katiestar Wed 18-Feb-09 13:02:56

My kids go to a small village state school and we have had quite an influx of children from independent schools.
In the nearest town a couple of the smaller schools have amalgamated

SueW Wed 18-Feb-09 13:14:59

There will be a lot of people enquirung about senior school places and backing two horses by applying for both state and private at the moment I think.

But friends I have who were told in Sept that there will be redundancies in their companies have both said said that there are a lot of ctubacks they can make before they will take their child out of school. Different perhaps if funding multiple children but certainly locally there are quite a high number of 'only' children in independent schools.

I agree the situation will become more clear after Easter.

DH is a contractor and we've had feast and fimaine for years but still managed to keep DD in independent prep. Our one car is 10 years old though and we don't really do holidays or much in the way of home improvements or buy expensive clothes, but we're not that way inclined anyway.

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