“A Struggle To Maintain Standards”

From Andrew Jack at the Financial Times, a look at British private schools in China:

He said the revenues generated by Dulwich’s overseas branches were used to fund scholarships that encourage social mobility back in London, while international exchanges enriched the experience for students and staff alike.

But he stressed that his overseas strategy was not a “not smash and grab”. It brought revenues of only about £1m a year and required a significant investment in resources for the supervision, support and selection of senior staff.

Mark Abell, a lawyer at Bird & Bird, confirmed that the scope for elite schools such as Dulwich to expand profitably was limited. Mr Abell, who has acted for 80 schools and has 30 projects under discussion, said economies of scale were important.

“I explain to clients that if they want to open one or two schools, they are wasting their time: they will never go to scale and will not have a long-term sustainable project,” he said.

He pointed out that schools could struggle to maintain standards at faraway branches, where it can be difficult balance the school’s interests with those of local business partners who typically manage and own the properties. For example, Dulwich split from its first school in Thailand over differences in approach.

When I first read that, I thought about teacher quality standards. The local partners tend to want to pay much lower teacher salaries. But then I read the next sentence.

“You have kids with different levels of motivation and English language proficiency, and local partners who want to fill their facilities quickly so you can’t be so selective,” added Mr Assomull at LEK.

Ah yes. I still have the charter school mentality, where the focus is on finding great teachers and making them into a cohesive team. That allows the school to create great gains for students, over their baseline.

The private school mentality often remains finding and admitting already great students, which in turn attracts other great applicants (and/or those with extremely wealthy parents). “No large gains needed” is the thinking. Just don’t mess them up.

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