School closures – Background

In recent years, we hear of schools in the independent sector closing on a regular basis. This can have unfortunate consequences on several levels; the loss of jobs, the loss of personal trust of parents, staff and pupils and pupils having to find alternative schools, sometimes in the lead up to public examinations. All of this tarnishes the reputation of the independent sector. What is more frustrating is that, on many occasions, these closures could have been averted. In some cases, if the SMTs involved had considered the option of transferring the school to another owner, the school closure may have been avoided. Sometimes, even apparently hopeless cases, seen from a new and different perspective, can have unexpected and happy outcomes

I have recently had experience of two such cases in which the Senior Management Teams sourced a “White Knight” able to take on the responsibility of the future of the school.

School closures – Case study 1

A couple recently bought a small school using most of their finance to do so. Now there are always surprises in taking on a new school and the couple soon realised that there was a pressing need to spend additional funds on refurbishment in certain areas of the school, funds they felt they were unable to commit. On reviewing the accountant’s profit projections, they became increasingly concerned about their ability to make ends meet. The “White Knight”, who read the accountant’s projections in a more positive way, could see a path through to a break-even position. He had deeper pockets and was able to take a longer-term view. He is now successfully running the school, content to have saved it along with the jobs of his staff and the places of his pupils, but with the prospect of reaping the benefits further down the line.

School closures – Case study 2

The second case involved a Charitable Trust School who became aware that, due to an unsustainable surplus of expenditure over income they would shortly become legally obliged to announce closure. They only had a window of opportunity of four weeks in which to identify and contract with a potential “white knight”, in order to remain within their statutory obligations. But it is always possible that such a white knight exists and, indeed, he did in this case. I won’t pretend that the due diligence and negotiating process was easy, but the good-will and encouragement of the agencies and parties involved ultimately helped to preserve the jobs of the staff as well as the places of all the students. The school is now in a relatively secure position with a new SMT.

School closures – Conclusion

These two cases studies illustrate that with open-mindedness, clear-sightedness and courage, owners and their SMTs can avoid possible school closure. By considering the transfer option they were able to offer their staff and pupils the best possible chance of reprieve, saving jobs, preserving the continuity of education for pupils and preventing the reputation of the Independent Sector being tarnished.

Pat Carter