Independent school Ashville College is launching a loyalty card to help local shops as they struggle for business.
28th January 2019
It all started with a tweet about a bad day’s business in a Yorkshire bookshop. From that sprang an unlikely alliance between a Harrogate boarding school and the town’s independent traders.
It is part of a wider phenomenon as private schools — sometimes seen as bastions of privilege which fail to engage with the communities that surround them — start doing more to help local businesses.
The tweet that began it came from Georgia Duffy, the owner of Imagined Things bookshop in Harrogate, who hit the headlines last summer when she posted that she had taken only £12.34 all day, highlighting the plight of independent retailers everywhere.
After she revealed her miserable day’s takings Ashville College bought more than 200 books from her shop, spending the proceeds of a fundraising effort to replenish its library. It would normally have been supplied by a wholesaler and secured hefty discounts.
Senior staff at the school have now gone further and are using their network of pupils, families and staff to try to increase the custom at more local independent businesses.
A loyalty scheme for its 880 pupils, their parents, staff and all former pupils will reward them with discounts if they use the businesses. Even before its launch, 13 independent traders had signed up, including bars, restaurants, two menswear shops and an estate agent.
Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, head of Stowe School thinks independent schools are not doing enough to reach out to children from deprived households.
Wallersteiner said a large proportion of bursaries were handed out to the “squeezed middle” - children of doctors, lawyers and owners of small businesses – who can no longer afford to pay fees in full.
“The majority of means tested bursaries will be topping up the squeezed middle who can’t afford £40,000-a-year fees,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“We are going back to the demographic profile that used to send their children to the local independent schools when I started in teaching - local solicitors, GPs, people who run family businesses, local farmers, people in the armed forces from the rank of, say, major upwards - the middle classes. They are being squeezed out of private education because of affordability.”
Last year there were 5,657 children whose places were fully funded by bursaries, which is one per cent of the total number of children at private schools, according to figures published by the Independent Schools Council (ISC).
Meanwhile 22,757 pupils (four per cent) were handed bursaries that paid for up to half of the fees, and 66,327 bursaries (12 per cent) went to children of staff, clergy or armed forces.
Dr Wallersteiner said private school headteachers need to work harder to encourage pupils from really deprived backgrounds to apply for fee assistance – which could include putting adverts in local papers or being more active on social media.
Barnaby Lenon, chair of the ISC, said: “Independent schools are spending more than ever before on free and subsidised places for children from lower income families and developing partnerships with state sector colleagues to share teachers, facilities and experience, and sponsor state schools.
“Schools offer fee assistance to the ‘squeezed middle’ because having a broad social mix which reflects our society is incredibly important.”