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Meeting the Challenge of Rising School Fees and Bursary Provision at St Paul's School

07/03/2016

Robert Stanier (1988-93) recently wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph, which used the example of St Paul’s to illustrate how independent schools in London have become unaffordable to many of their alumni due to the compound effects of annual fee increases.  It made uncomfortable reading.  Rather than engage with Robert through the press, we will meet at school soon to talk through the issues: I regret that he chose not to do so before he published, because some of his arguments and examples were either incorrect or misrepresented.  But this does not obscure the fact that he has a powerful point, one which has been raised before by OPs.  So I thought that it would be also be beneficial to engage with his arguments through the medium of the OPC Newsletter.

Robert is right: St Paul’s annual fees are beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest parents.  He argued that the rise in fees has been driven by a 'screwed up arms race' against other schools, so that the 1st XV has to tour Australia, and our buildings have to be grand, if we are to compete.  Yet the notion that we are in an arms race has never occurred to me or the Governors.  The occasional international trips are to enhance the educational experience of the boys: I have no idea and no interest in where other schools have toured.  

But this misses the main point.  Soaring fees reflect our attempts to grapple with the soaring costs of maintaining a really high quality educational experience in London.  Nearly 70% of our annual expenditure goes on staffing costs.  Our salaries have risen far above and beyond CPI in order to attract increasingly scarce mathematicians, physicists and top quality teachers in the humanities to work in London.  In addition, we have to help them with their accommodation costs.  Pension and compliance costs are soaring.  These now are far more expensive than when Robert was here in the 1990s, and they are fundamental to the provision of a first-rate academic education for able boys.  

The problem of staffing costs is compounded at St Paul’s because we have had to confront simultaneously the problem that our school buildings were built to last until the late 1990s: they had still not been replaced in the late 2000s, when the problem had become critical and when construction costs in London were now far outstripping those elsewhere.  The new buildings are not part of some ‘arms race’.  They are essential.  So do we replace them cheaply with buildings that will last until the 2040s, and bequeath to the next generation the problem of replacement?  Or do we build a school that will last well beyond 2100, which would cost a good deal more while being economically more prudent?  We have chosen the latter, although the impact on fees has been greatly ameliorated by extraordinarily generous donations by the Mercers’ (£38m) and Lloyd Dorfman OP (£9m).

Our bursary scheme provides some help to those who cannot afford the fees.  We currently spend around £850K each year on bursaries, which benefits more than 50 pupils at Colet Court and St Paul’s.  Of these, around one third are 100%-bursaries (covering full fees) which are offered to families with a gross household income of less than £60K p.a.  Ironically, on a vicar's stipend Robert would receive a 100% bursary, so his son could attend St Paul's.

But this provision is simply not enough.  And it is not good enough.  We have strayed from John Colet’s vision to educate any able boy from any background. Our challenge is to restore the school to that vision.  In 2008 Dr Martin Stephen declared the goal of making the school Needs Blind within a generation, an objective which remains close to the heart of the Governors and staff.  The major hurdle to that objective was the vast cost of replacing the 1968 school buildings, but now that the redevelopment programme is well underway we are now able and determined to focus on ‘Needs Blind’ or ‘Open Access’ admission.

Within the next five to ten years, we aim to make St Paul’s accessible to any bright boy living in Greater London who passes the assessment and wishes to attend the School. Boys will be assessed and places offered strictly on the grounds of academic merit and potential. If their parents can afford the fees, then they will be billed for them. If, following strict means-testing, parents can afford part of the fees, then the School will pay the balance. If parents cannot afford any of the fees, then the School will support the boy entirely. Hence in some years the School may provide a considerable amount of money for bursaries, and in other years much less.

This requires a massive expansion of our bursary provision.  The provision will also support boys whose parents are in the ‘squeezed middle’ with part-fee bursaries.  Our initial target is to be spending, on average, around £3.25M per year on bursaries by 2020. By doing so, St Paul’s estimates that it will be helping approximately 10% to 15% of its total number of pupils (across both Colet Court and St Paul’s). 

We are already making progress:  

  • The bursary scale is already becoming more generous and realistic.  From September 2016 families with £60k income will receive 100% of fees, and other incidental expenses will be paid by the Bursary Fund, and those with £120,000 will receive 25%.
  • We are refurbishing part of Colet Court this summer to accommodate another class of 11+ entrants, which increases opportunities for boys from state primary schools to obtain a place here.
  • A firm of consultants, Global Philanthropic, has been appointed to create a Development Strategy for the school, based on confidential interviews with selected OPs, parents, donors, potential donors.
  • We are introducing a range of new initiatives to close any perceived and real distance between Colet Court and St Paul’s, in part to reinforce the unity of the schools to potential bursary applicants at 11+. This includes renaming Colet Court as St Paul’s Juniors from 1 September 2016, to remove any confusion or misconception that ‘Colet Court’ or ‘St Paul’s Preparatory School’ is a  stand-alone prep school, when we are actually one school unified by a common culture and Colet’s vision. Our founder’s name will continue to be preserved and honoured, reflected within the next building phase, completed toward the end of 2017.

The rising cost of fees reflects the exponential rise in the cost of providing a high quality education for able boys.  We will not compromise on that principle.  The challenge is to expand the bursary provision to make sure any applicant who is good enough to benefit can come here.  We will confront this challenge over the next few years.

Professor Mark Bailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Address: Lonsdale Road, Barnes, London SW13 9JT • Tel: 020 8746 5390 • Email: opcadmin@stpaulsschool.org.uk