Coronavirus crisis pushes private school to open up to ‘wider catchment group’

Graham Ellis, principal and academic director at Brookes School, near Bury St Edmunds Picture: BROOK

Graham Ellis, principal and academic director at Brookes School, near Bury St Edmunds Picture: BROOKES SCHOOL - Credit: BROOKES SCHOOL

An independent school in west Suffolk is drawing on the expertise of parents to help safeguard its future doing the coronavirus crisis.

Brookes School in Risby, near Bury St Edmunds, has moved to a parent-led management structure, which it says had been on the cards for a while, to tap into parents’ skills to support it moving forward.

Many private schools in the UK are facing severe challenges as the pandemic squeezes their funding, with the loss of international students. Some are offering parents discounted fees.

Moreton Hall Preparatory School, in Bury St Edmunds, has said it will permanently close after the summer term as coronavirus had “unravelled plans for future growth”.

MORE: Prep school to close for good after coronavirus ‘unravels plans for growth’

The school-parent partnership at Brookes School has been welcomed by headteacher Graham Ellis, who also hailed the work of staff and students after all studies were moved online during the pandemic.

Mr Ellis said: “We have talked about a new management structure for a while.

“When we lost this year’s international students, who were boarding at Brookes, due to the government guidelines around travel, it allowed us to have a rethink.

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“We are fortunate to have parents with such a wealth of business experience who are also passionate about growing the school.

“In response to the impact of the coronavirus, we have already reduced our school fees to offer alternative education at realistic prices and we now feel it is the right time to work together to open up to a wider catchment group.

“It made sense to get some parents more involved to help us overcome the challenges facing all independent schools at this time.”

A quartet of existing parents have joined the school board and one of them, Andi Hodgson, said this was an exciting time for staff and parents alike.

Mr Hodgson, whose daughter is in reception class, said: “All private schools are having to reassess their future in the current crisis.

“The school asked for support from parents who might be able to apply their career experience to benefit Brookes going forward.

“Brookes School offers an inclusive and nurturing learning environment and has huge potential. The new management board are looking forward to doing everything we can to support it right now and into the future.”

Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, said independent schools were under a “huge amount of pressure” currently.

He added: “The families that are lucky enough to send their children to a private school are under tremendous pressure.

“Everybody is trying to help out everybody else as much as they possibly can and parents have been very understanding as well.”

He said some private schools will have just been “bubbling along” financially and are now grappling with the current crisis.

MORE: ‘We aim to light up Moreton Hall with our new school’ - ambitions revealed for prep schoolFounded just under 40 years ago, Brookes School is an independent day and boarding school for children aged between two and 16 years old.

Mr Ellis added: “I have nothing but praise for how our staff and students have adapted at this time.

“Our evolving online learning programme has been well supported and our communication has ranged from one-to-one support, virtual assemblies and even plans for family quiz nights.

“We are doing all we can to ensure we provide the best education and support for our young people.”

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