He who pays the piper

You may have seen the reports in the press this week about the plans to set up a series of low cost independent schools which would charge parents just £2,700 per annum. Not only is this way below the average costs of a place in an average independent school where costs are £13,566, but it is also considerably below the cost of the average student in a state maintained school.

Whilst many of the reports have taken this plan at face value I guess we shouldn’t get too excited about what is in essence a PR stunt. But I do think it’s an interesting exercise to see if such a school is even possible.

There are many ways to look at the cost of such a school but I though I’d try and do it as simply as possible (given that all figures will be educated guesswork) and work it out in terms of numbers of kids per class.

The median primary school teacher salary in England is around £24,400. With on-costs this is going to cost around £30,000 per teacher. So a teacher is going to cost at least 11 children per year. Let’s call it 12 kids.

Now this teacher needs a classroom to teach in. The plan is for these schools to open in Durham. So lets start there. Open plan office space costs £12-15 per square foot. A standard sized classroom is 555 sq ft (this is for 25 students). Which means that a classroom will cost between £6,660 and £8,325, or about 3 kids. Even if the schools are set up in purchased premises this still has a financing cost so it is reasonable to include this.

Presumably there will be a headteacher of some sort. A headteacher has got to cost at least £40,000 a year, or 15 kids. I guess a head is going to need a PA. Let’s call the cost of the PA 9 kids. And of course they will need some office space so we’ll add another 3 kids to the cost. Total costs for head is now 27 kids. So if this is a single form entry schools running years 1 thru 6 then we can divide that cost by 6 to get a cost per class of 4.5 kids.

There will probably need to be a reception area and receptionist of some kind and I’m going to call that a cost of 9 kids, or 1.5 per class.

Now we have a teacher, a headteacher (and their office) and we have reception sorted. We are up to a cost of 21 kids.

Would there be a TA in the room? If so that’s another 4 kids per class.

Which brings us up to 25 kids per class.

Given that the group would not be starting out very big it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that other costs (IT, HR, Training, Finance, Cleaning, Maintenance) might be around 5%, or another kid per class.

Which brings us up to just over 26 kids per class.

This is without considering the costs of any resources or consumables. Without thinking about any admin team (beyond the heads PA). There’s no playground in these costs. No visits. No visitors.

A true no frills experience.

So I ask myself would a parent pay £2,700 to send their child to a school with class-sizes of at least 26? Likely more.

I think it is clear that £2,700 is the entry price. Want a music lesson? That’ll be extra. Want to go on the visit to the museum? That’ll be extra. Want an exercise book to write your work in? Yes, you get the message.

It’s a nice thought that a school could be created that vastly undercuts the state system but I think when you look at the actuality you’ll see that it’s not as easy as it seems. And that the education our kids get in state schools, with all the frills that children and parents see everyday, for the funding that is provided, still offers great value for money.

In fact, if you run the numbers you might start to ask yourself just exactly how can they do it for so little?

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