As many as 30 British private schools are preparing to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Sunday Telegraph has learned, with parents struggling to pay fees contributing to their collapse.
Most schools “haven’t got deep pockets” and the current crisis has pushed dozens of institutions over the edge, according to Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association.
Nine private schools have already formally announced that they intend to shut down, but Mr Roskilly said that there are around 30 overall which are in a similar position.
“It is very worrying for the pupils and their families,” he said. “Some will resurrect themselves. Sometimes they go into administration then they will be bought up and reopened under different leadership.”
Mr Roskilly explained that the impact of parents being unable to pay fees will be a “significant” blow to schools’ finances.
This week the Minster School in York, a preparatory school which provides choristers for the city's cathedral and can trace its origins back to the seventh century, announced that it will close due to a cash shortfall caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Boris Johnson’s former prep school, Ashdown House Preparatory School in Sussex , also informed parents that it will shut down after 180 years due to the “harsh reality” of coronavirus which has prompted a sharp fall in demand for places.
Of the schools which have so far announced their closure, half are preparatory schools and so far three have specifically cited parents’ inability to continue paying fees as a factor in their decision to shut down.
York Minster’s Dean, the Right Rev Dr Jonathan Frost, said that the Chapter of York was no longer able to keep up its investment in the school adding that in recent months “a number of families indicated they would be unable to keep their children at the Minster School.”
Moreton Hall, a prep school in Suffolk which charges £24,000-a-year for boarders, explained its reasons for closure included the fact that many parents “now find themselves in difficult financial straits” as well as loss of income from summer camps and demand for overseas boarding drying up.
Bramdean School in Exeter, another school to have closed in recent months told parents that it would be unable to “weather this storm”, adding that they had been receiving “daily requests” for fee remissions.
Stephen Spriggs, managing director at William Clarence Education which assists some of the country’s leading public schools with recruitment, said that families falling into financial difficulties and pulling their children out is a real concern.
“Preparatory schools have a lower head count which then means if they have a drop off in pupil numbers they lose out more because of the fees,” he said.
“The biggest problem for schools is looking forward into next year. What kind of boarding offer can they really offer? If the international students don’t turn up in September and British families pull their children out, you can’t make the same forecasts.”
Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said it is “terribly sad” to hear of school closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is impossible to predict with accuracy the full impact this pandemic will have,” she said. “Of course it is already affecting independent schools like all small businesses and also the livelihoods of fee-paying parents.”
Ms Robinson said that independent schools are “highly adaptable to a change in the market”, adding that their switch to online learning which has been well received by parents and pupils.