Define your value

  • 28th June 2024

Daniel Cohen says schools must recognise what different parents prioritise


As the UK independent school sector braces for the impending addition of VAT on school fees, institutions find themselves at a pivotal juncture, compelled to re-evaluate their value propositions. The introduction of VAT poses a significant financial burden, prompting schools to scrutinise their offerings and reaffirm their commitment to excellence in education. Where education is concerned, defining value transcends monetary considerations, encompassing educational quality, holistic development, and community engagement.

Historically, independent schools in the UK have prided themselves on delivering a premium educational experience distinguished by small class sizes, state-of-the-art facilities and a rich array of extracurricular activities. However, the imposition of VAT on school fees challenges the traditional notion of value, compelling schools to articulate their unique selling points more effectively.

Understand the differences

Importantly, defining value requires a nuanced understanding of diverse stakeholder needs and aspirations. How many school leaders possess a thorough comprehension of their market’s top priorities? Indeed, values and their significance vary across diverse demographics. For instance, individuals with incomes exceeding £150k prioritise an all-round education, while those within the £70k to 100k bracket are particularly focused on academic excellence. Moreover, individuals who lack experience in the independent school system may have different expectations compared to those who have. Without a deep understanding of one’s market, effectively articulating value becomes nearly impossible.

Market research is an essential part of developing this understanding. School leadership teams and governors must actively gather feedback and information about their current markets and anticipate their evolution to ensure ongoing alignment with market demands. Relying solely on anecdotal feedback or employing a ‘finger in the air’ approach is inadequate in today’s dynamic landscape. Instead, leveraging data is paramount to making informed, evidence-based decisions that enable schools to adapt and thrive in a competitive environment.

Absorb or pass on?

Many schools have made public declarations stating they will absorb the VAT increase rather than passing it on to parents, with some focusing whole marketing campaigns around this message. A pertinent question parents might consider asking is whether these schools, capable of absorbing a 15-20% rise, were delivering good value beforehand. What changes are they now making to accommodate this expense?

Broadening the value

Community engagement represents another cornerstone of value in independent schools. Beyond being educational institutions, schools serve as vibrant hubs of community life, fostering connections among pupils, parents, staff and alumni. As the VAT imposition looms, schools must strengthen their ties with the broader community, engaging stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and collaborative partnerships. These must also focus on genuine community enrichment rather than mere marketing endeavours. While initiatives showcased on platforms like the Schools Together website ( highlight commendable collaborations between the independent and state sectors, there’s also evidence of recruitment-centric events disguised as community engagement.

Innovation is necessary

Amid the VAT upheaval, innovation emerges as a catalyst for redefining value in independent schools. Schools must be seen to embrace innovation in all its forms, from digital technologies and educational methodologies to operational efficiencies and sustainability initiatives. By leveraging innovation, schools can enhance the quality and efficiency of their educational offerings while differentiating themselves in an increasingly competitive landscape.

The introduction of VAT on school fees represents an opportunity for UK independent schools. It marks a critical juncture for these institutions to reaffirm their value proposition and redefine their position within the educational sphere. While not all schools may succeed in this, those that do will be the schools that emerge with resilience and confidence.

Daniel Cohen is head of business development at marketing research firm MTM.

Daniel Cohen

Keep Updated

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive the latest news.