It’s always a gloomy day when the Greggs bakery chain announces it is putting up prices on sausage rolls and other baked goods again, blaming inflation and the pandemic.
The world is that little bit more miserable when a cheap steak bake becomes unaffordable to all but the most monied lunch-seekers.
This is perhaps unlikely in the immediate future, but The Consumer Prices Index currently stands at over five per cent and uncertainty surrounds where inflation might go next.
While most headteachers and bursars might object to their schools being compared to sausage roll shops, they will be under the same pressures in the coming year as they try to balance the books. Soaring energy prices and small returns on savings will also not bring joy over the coming months.
“In 2022, parents will not be in the mood for paying more.”
Schools though don’t always have the luxury of nudging up prices and the pressure to keep fees low is greater than ever before after two years of Covid disruptions and examinations chaos. In 2022, parents will not be in the mood for paying more.
And if schools didn’t have enough to contend with, the issue of the 43 per cent increase on school contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme does not look to be going away this year.
Almost a quarter of independent schools who were in the scheme in January 2019 have now left, an FOI published in December by Broadstone revealed, and there are sixteen schools who have asked for a phased withdrawal from the scheme.
While some schools have successfully retreated from the scheme without attracting attention, there have been high profile disputes, and the Girls’ Day School Trust is heading into the New Year with a threat of teacher strike action over the issue.
At least, you might say, schools’ charitable status in England looks safe for the moment. Keir Starmer’s Labour announced a plan last September to scrap schools’ charitable status and charge VAT on school fees, but there is no immediate prospect of a general election despite Boris’s swirling scandals.
In time, the Labour leader may be advised that the independent school-bashing approach is not the vote winner many in his party think it is anyway.
“Experience through the pandemic has toughened the sector.”
Look North to Scotland though, and independent schools there will be feeling the pinch from April, where the government has decided to scrap tax relief on business rates for schools with charitable status.
Melvyn Roffe, headmaster of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, recently called the delayed move “personal, political and vindictive”, explaining how it would result in fewer people accessing high quality independent education.
This squeeze on private schools and possible fee rises will mean schools will have to think even smarter with their marketing – spending less and achieving more, and drawing back wayward overseas students.
It’s set to be a tough and uncertain year for schools, for sure, and no doubt some financially weaker ones will have to close, as they have done as a result of Covid.
But experience has toughened the sector, and schools’ survival mechanisms have been well developed by the pandemic itself.
Schools will have to dig in, keep selling those sausage rolls and hope the customers keep coming back for more.