Affordability is ‘a real issue we decided to react to’
Rob Jones, Head at Rendcomb College in Gloucestershire, discusses his motivations for reducing fees and how this has impacted the school so far.
Fees in independent schools are a fact of life – we all know that, but we also know that paying for independent education is a choice that parents can choose to opt out of at what they view as possible departure points.
Sadly, in my experience all too frequently that seems to be at the end of fifth form. As an educationalist I would argue that moving after GCSE exams is the worst possible time to leave, as it is during the sixth form years that pupils can enjoy the true benefits of collaborative working with their teachers; of taking on leadership positions; of developing into the fully rounded individuals that our enrichment programmes can deliver.
At Rendcomb College we even give them a taste of independent living in a separate house on campus where, for a week, they live in small groups, cooking, cleaning and living together with nobody to enforce wake-up calls or independent study time. That’s a skill set that no maintained school is going to be able to pass on.
Faced with the competition from local grammar schools with excellent sixth forms, and with all the evidence in front of us to show that affordability was a real issue, we decided to react to it.
As a new head it’s quite a pitch to suggest to your governors that it is sensible to reduce your fees, but I’m delighted to say they agreed it was the right decision to make.
Historically Rendcomb College has always been about widening access to education and it was one of the founding principles back in 1920 that free places should be made available to worthy pupils; we were trailblazers long before public benefit was being talked about. If we go back to the 1960s, around two-thirds of our pupils were on heavily subsidised or free places, and this really only dwindled with the removal of the Assisted Places Scheme.
Fast forward to 2016 and by reducing our fees for day pupils in the sixth form by 30%, we’re widening access again to young people for whom an independent sixth form education might now be achievable. And it’s paying dividends, with enquiries increasing dramatically from pupils of local schools that finish at age 16. Many of their parents are commenting that they could now think this was within their reach and was worth making sacrifices for. To me, making a positive difference to an extra young person’s life is the greatest measure of success.
The throw-away suggestion that by reducing fees we might also be reducing our quality in some way made me smile as, within a few days of our decision, I congratulated the six pupils with Oxbridge interviews, congratulated our three 15-year-olds who had won the national Longitude Explorer Prize (complete with the £25k prize), and congratulated our aspiring doctor who scored amongst the highest in the country in his BMAT test. I think that’s probably proof that we’re providing plenty of quality experiences for the pupils in our care.
It’s not just at sixth form level that we’ve made changes though. We know from experience that those pupils who come through our junior school perform exceptionally well at 11+ entry and score highly in scholarship assessments.
So we recognise the loyalty of parents who’ve been with us throughout the last three junior school years by making a reduction in the day fees if they progress straight into the senior school – it’s a modest reduction, but it’s all part of us reaching out to our parents and supporting them where we can.