Leading Sussex head predicts rush to independent schools as local state school governors issue strike threat over funding

Burgess Hill Girls’ Kathryn Bell says increasing number of families are ‘dipping their toes’ in independent education

Burgess Hill Girls’ headteacher Kathryn Bell says families who have traditionally educated their children in the state sector are opting for independent schools as the funding crisis in state schools deepens.  

Now school governors in West Sussex are writing to MPs to warn them they will refuse to sign off budgets or carry out their supervisory work.

Mrs Bell says she has enormous sympathy for the predicament in which local schools find themselves. 

‘We are all part of the same local education economy, and of course independent schools are also faced with rising costs. But in the independent sector we are very fortunate to have the freedom to allocate funds where they make most difference to the quality of the education we offer to local families. And that is invariably in the quality – and quantity –  of teaching staff.

‘Our big advantage is that we’re not reliant on “big brother” in the shape of the Department of Education to tell us what we can spend – or how we can spend it.’

West Sussex schools have been in the vanguard of a national campaign protesting against funding cuts in state schools. Heads have warned that they will have to cut teaching staff, merge classes or cut school hours. 

Spending watchdog the National Audit Office has also warned that schools face £3bn in spending cuts by 2020.

Mrs Bell said the warnings were having an impact on parents’ perceptions of local education and that a growing number of Burgess Hill Girls’ parents were ‘dipping their toe’ in the independent school sector.

‘We are a school with many first-time “buyers”,’ she said.

Mrs Bell added: ‘We are getting enquiries from local parents who have until now educated their children in the state sector – and who attended state schools themselves – but are very concerned about the impact of cuts and the proposed new funding formula on the quality of education.’

She said that many local families who have assumed in the past that an independent school education was out of their reach are changing their minds.

‘Of course school fees can put a strain on family finances, but we find that many parents are pleasantly surprised when they find out what an independent day school actually costs. Many of the sums bandied about in the media are the fees for boarding, not day, pupils.’

She added that when the soaring costs of child care, particularly for young children, were factored in, an independent education could represent excellent value for money.

Mrs Bell added that, whatever their circumstances or backgrounds, all parents share an overwhelming ambition to provide the best possible education for their children.

‘And that’s what unites schools in the area: we all seek to provide an outstanding education which inspires every pupil to excel. At Burgess Hill Girls, we do our utmost to equip our girls to lead fulfilled and productive adult lives in a rapidly changing world.’

School governors – including parents and representatives from the local community – do not get paid, but they have a responsibility of oversight for how schools are run, appointing staff and scrutinising school finances.

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Do you agree with her predictions? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie

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