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A project for a low-cost school (KS4 - 2 years leading to the GCSE exams)

(54 Posts)
MrSir Mon 22-Dec-14 23:01:13


I'm really interested in hearing your opinions so please read on and reply.

I am a teacher of Mathematics. I was educated abroad but trained to teach in the UK. Teaching is my calling but all the academies and comprehensives I have known over the years are a sad business.

I am obsessed with starting my own school. It needs to be independent in order to remain free from the control of LEA and OFSTED.

I'll try to be clear and succinct: it is a low-cost school. The fees should be no less than £300 per each of 12 months and no more than £500. Students study only academic IGCSE (Maths, additional Maths, Bio, Chem, Phys, Eng Language, Eng Literature, History, Geography, one or two Modern Foreign Languages (MFL)). This is our focus - academic learning leading for the 3 years leading to the GCSEs (years 9, 10 and 11 - ages 13 - 16). We would start 1 year early to allow time to work on the basics and to extend further later on. For example, a student gets up to speed in Maths in year 1, achieves an A or B by year 2 and, by year 3 they are ready to receive an A*/A and to sit additional Maths as well. If we start early, we'll have time to be successfull without stress.

Our great advantage is the availability of tutorials with subject teachers at the end of the day, for better support. I have worked out timetables for this effect. One short tutorial (20 min in a group of 3 or 4) at least once per week. All teaching of academic subjects takes place before lunch, with the exception of MFL. The remaining time is spent in non- academic activities, tutorials, homework, reading and supervised study. The school day would finish about 17:00.

Admission would be subject to successful interview and record/reference of positive behaviour. The idea is to take in students who are "flying under the radar" or those who need a bigger challenge. No misbehaviour allowed.

Meals (optional) would be brought in by a catering business and the daily cost would be less than £6, including a simple breakfast, lunch and a break time snack - all simple but healthy. I am particularly mindful of the need to keep it healthy.

My problem at the moment is that I'm not sure what parents value the most and if they would support this vision - a vision of focus on true academic learning and excellence. Sporting activities would be encouraged but optional and paid seperately (Judo and dance would be my first choice). Other options would include Swimming, Music and Drama, also paid seperately.

The facilities would not impress you. I am looking at underutilized office buildings anywhere between Guildford, Maidstone and Cambridge. If they have good natural light, air flow, good acoustics and are generally decent, they work for me. Large green football fields are miles away from the budget. The appearance will be functional and modern - luxuries come at a luxury's price.

I am also a big fan of Saturday tutorials/ remedial teaching, trips and sporting activities. Is that a good idea or too much school in a week?

One more thing: there are no half-term holidays. For me, a half-term is one-half of a job done, so I see no reason to pack up one's things and go on a holiday. Half-terms are a great opportunity for field trips, cross-curricular projects and great lessons that are not necessarily academic in nature. It is, perhaps, a great time to hire science equipment and do some experiments.

I cannot go any further with this project until I understand what parents like yourself find essential and what they can do without.

Thank you for reading. Please, let me know what you think.

titchy Tue 23-Dec-14 08:13:07

Facilities will be a MASSIVE problem I would have thought. No changing rooms for PE, no sports pitches for football/rugby/cricket matches. How do kids do PE if you have no facilities. What about science labs? What about an assembly hall? Music and drama performances - how do they happen with no facilities. Where do kids go a break and lunch time to run around. Do you have a library?

I assume the fees you quote were termly? That's less than state schools get per pupil.... It's hard to see how your model is financially sustainable unless you're paying your staff peanuts. Your food costs are high. Do you have a canteen?

The limited curriculum, long day and lack of half terms may well suit some people. May not suit your staff though.

There is generally a reason people pick a private school - they have a notion of buying added value. It's hard to see the value of sitting in an office 8 hours a day.

NorwaySpruce Tue 23-Dec-14 08:18:17

How on earth will you make it pay? Even online schools charge more than that.

PandaG Tue 23-Dec-14 08:21:34

Would not interest me at all. No choice of subjects - far too restrictive for my children. No half terms, I honestly think my kids work hard enough and need the break. Yes to starting some subjects in Y9, but a lot of state schools do this ime.

Reindeerballs Tue 23-Dec-14 10:07:12

I am sorry but I don't think your idea is viable. The main spend for most private schools is on teaching staff and I don't think you have considered how much well qualified experienced teachers cost.

A very cheap private school near me is just above your upper limit and they teach GCSE students as a sideline to their main business of a crammer college for A levels. The lower school has very small classes mainly of those who for whatever reason didn't really fit into mainstream school.

I do know of a primary school that started from nothing but that was bankrolled by the proprietor's family and 15 years or so down the line is still struggling financially.

You also seem to be banking on large numbers joining your school at the beginning of year 9. I think you will be hard pressed to find an area where the schools are so awful you will get sufficient numbers and have enough parents able to pay.

I have/had children at a super selective grammar and a comp and they were both good schools. I would not pay for a school with no arts, classics or music. Btw 2 of my child's ex classmates are now doing music at Oxford and Cambridge respectively - hardly non academic. My elder child is doing medicine but did Art GCSE.

I also think a 5pm finish is a mad idea, as is not having a half term break.

I think you are quite naive when it comes to academic ability - not everyone is capable of A/A*. Saying that bad behaviour is 'not allowed' is not a solution, some children need a lot of intervention and support.

Have you considered private tutoring and perhaps eventually a tutorial college of some sort?

SunnyBaudelaire Tue 23-Dec-14 10:12:43

" all the academies and comprehensives I have known over the years are a sad business. "
maybe it is you then ? if it was 'all' of them? I would not touch a school like that with a bargepole.

GaryTheTankEngine Tue 23-Dec-14 10:15:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AuntieStella Tue 23-Dec-14 10:18:56

I would not be attracted to this as a concept for a school, because I would want a full curriculum, including PE, drama, art, music, D&T to be available, and I would expect an adequate range of facilities including for PE and labs for science. So that's rather more than just putting pupils in an office block.

I think you have probably underestimated staff costs. Even assuming you are looking at up to £6k per year (max £500 pcm) that's really not going to go far. And there is no way I would pay for subjects such as PE as an extra (individual music lessons, maybe).

It does sound far more like a crammer than a school.

roisin Tue 23-Dec-14 10:30:19

What experience do you have of running a school? All schools have to be registered with the DfE and all schools have to be inspected (and comply with certain criteria, including PE for U16s) Either by Ofsted or by ISI. But ISI won't take on brand new schools until they're established and have been green-lighted by Ofsted.

Unless you are planning a boarding school, you should concentrate your market research on a specific geographical area, as this is where your pupils come from. You may have interest from an area, like Middlesbrough, where the local secondaries are rubbish, but that's of no use if your school is in kent or Cambridge or Surrey. There are loads of excellent schools (inde, state and selective state schools.)

I agree that the model you suggest is not dissimilar from the crammers, especially inde sixth form colleges that do a sideline in GCSEs. Why not visit a few and see their model and how it works?

lljkk Tue 23-Dec-14 11:13:46

DS went to a tiny indie privately owned, for £6k/yr. (in a characterful old drafty, tatty building). School had poor GCSE results, All packed lunches, far cheaper than 6 quid/day.

That's an expensive real estate zone, why charge so little? You want admission by interview which implies selection; If you charge so little people will assume it's no good.

You need to think positively about what you'd be selling that other schools don't have, focus on this, not facilities, so budget-priced academic excellence? DS school was filled by over-looked nice-but-dim or nervous-disposition students. Great pastoral care but a culture of under-achievement because so few high ability pupils. Staff did many extras (like drive bus service to bring kids to school) they didn't seem to like. Most pupils had some kind of SN or difficult history issue.

"we'll have time to be successfull without stress. "

private parents of the clever kids usually want school to push hard; private parents of the nice-but-dim will just be grateful their kids didn't sink completely.

"Our great advantage is the availability of tutorials with subject teachers"

Only highly motivated pupils would much engage with that; they excel in the regular state system, they don't need you.

Saturday sessions or losing Half terms I wouldn't care about (would be hassle for some parents though).

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 23-Dec-14 12:22:53

So what you are offering is, for up to £6000 a year, a school which doesn't offer the full range of subjects that even independent schools offer, unless parents pay extra, expensive lunches and no opportunity for a half term break. On top of which there will be no facilities and you are trying to actively avoid being inspected, and you appear to be going to select those that that can get an A whilst excluding those with additional needs. Good luck with that.

sassytheFIRST Tue 23-Dec-14 12:39:05

Good luck with that. As a top of main scale teacher I command £36k. I can leave at 3.45 (taking much work home, obv, but reducing child care costs), have half terms and can manage my own time on Saturdays. Tbf, I have 30 students in my top set and your school would be far fewer, but I can't think of a single reason why good teachers would be attracted to your model.

roisin Tue 23-Dec-14 13:04:48

Don't forget that as well as the salaries of teachers, you also have to pay employer's NI and employer's pension contribution, which I believe is about to go up to 16.4% of salary in Sep if in the TPS.

ShipwreckedAndMerrilyComatose Tue 23-Dec-14 13:18:35

Yes the lack of facilities (old offices, really??) and apparent lack of expert teachers (due to poor salaries dictated by low fees) the lack of choice and the lack of holiday breaks for students and teachers to rest would be unappealing to me.

These, alongside the excellent reputations of schools that are well established, would mean I would not be tempted to send my children to your new school

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 23-Dec-14 13:40:25

Just re-read your OP. When you say half term is a good chance to do less academic stuff such as hire science equipment and do experiments, are you saying that you won't be doing science experiments during the rest of the year. Or that you aren't going to have much science equipment. Or are you talking about very specialist equipment that wouldn't be found in schools.

I'm not sure you'll get many people to agree that playing fields are a luxury either. You will at least need access to them if you want to attract parents to your school.

ShipwreckedAndMerrilyComatose Tue 23-Dec-14 13:43:01

Rafa, I missed that gem. fshock

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Tue 23-Dec-14 16:03:55

I was too busy trying to get my head round the idea of paying fees and then paying more for PE on top and not getting any art, music or drama.

I realise that by year 10 those subjects are optional but by not offering you are ruling out any all rounders who might want to take one or two of those alongside 8 or 9 more academic subjects.

I think you need to go back to the drawing board on this one. If you can't sell it here on the MN education boards I don't think you have a chance in hell of selling it elsewhere.

MrSir Tue 23-Dec-14 17:19:34

Thank you all for your replies.
I appreciate all your comments.

TalkinPeace Tue 23-Dec-14 17:20:46

I think you need to look at the accounts of various fee paying schools, free schools and academy schools (they are all available online)
and the funding rules of the DFe

your ideas sound half baked
you are welcome to open a half baked school
but not in this country

admission Tue 23-Dec-14 17:37:31

You might be a teacher in maths but clearly setting budgets was not a strength. The reality of a charge per pupil of £500 per year maximum is just not viable, current state school figures are in the region £3500 to £6000 depending on the LA. The obvious issues around a suitable facility have been a major problem with any new free school whwre many have struggled to find an appropriate building.
Sorry but you need to start again with your cost projections, starting with what teaching staff will you need, who are of a calibre to teach to A* in the subjects you are suggesting.
Also I think that you will not find many takers to move to a new school in year 9, unless you are in an area where there is a three tier system of education in the state sector.

bloodyteenagers Tue 23-Dec-14 17:50:43

£500 a year maximum? Hahaha.
Staff costs. Building costs. Equipment costs Heating. Hot water. Electric. Stationary. Computers. All costs and cannot be pluck from thin air.

TalkinPeace Tue 23-Dec-14 17:54:16

Teaching staff
Support staff
Teaching materials
Repairs and renewals to equipment
Heat, light, power
Internet access and software
Accounting provision
SEN provision and support

A basic state secondary has a budget in the millions of pounds

you need to take Business Studies GCSE before you progress with your plan.

IWantDogger Tue 23-Dec-14 17:56:37

Aside from all the points made by others that I agree with, your lack of understanding of the importance of the arts would put me right off. (As someone who did an academic degree in music at a red brick university)

bloodyteenagers Tue 23-Dec-14 17:59:57

Plus is the building accessible and have facilities as well as loop induction?

pigsinmud Tue 23-Dec-14 18:08:59

Arts and sport treated as an irritating extra? No thank you.

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