Performing arts school chief voices concerns over Labour’s tax plans

  • 24th April 2024

The principal of Tring Park, a specialist independent school for performing arts, has said it isn’t just privileged families that will be affected by rising costs caused by a Labour government’s VAT policy.

Tring Park School is a boarding and day school in Hertfordshire, educating seven to 19-year-olds through a specialist curriculum.

In an interview with iNews, Simon Larter-Evans said: “The parents of Tring Park are not the kind of families that would naturally be inclined towards private education. Affordability is a problem for them. They do everything that they can to send their children to our specialist school. Nearly half our students have some kind of financial assistance from us, and that can vary from a bit to a lot. They’re also borrowing from their own parents: The Bank of Nan and Granddad. This has only got worse thanks to the cost of living crisis.

“These parents come to us because their children have a burning need to perform. We’ve all met them; those kids that make you feel as if they’re born for the stage. We know them when we meet them.

“We’re an absolute sanctuary for children like that. The children who ordinarily wouldn’t thrive in a mainstream setting. And that’s because we are not academically selective. Children will audition for us, and join the school from around eight or nine. They have to demonstrate a clear commitment and talent for either singing, dancing or acting. They have to really want to pursue their dream of performing at a world-class level.

“We provide for children that are very able, some of whom are unhappy outliers in state schools, and whose families ordinarily find it hard to balance the scale of training they need along with an academic education. Imagine having a child who trains every evening and all weekend, as I did as a boy, running to hundreds of hours a month, plus getting the schooling needed as well. We offer all of that in one place, in a supportive environment where everyone is here for the same reason and people can be themselves.

“We have 15 studios for performing. There’s only a handful of schools in the UK that specialise in music, dance and theatre. Schools like ours are expensive to run because we’re physically set up to do something very particular. For high school, the fees start from £8,170 a term for day pupils and £12,780 for boarders.

“To provide 46% our students with financial assistance, such as a bursary for their fees, we get some funding from the Department for Education, and we reinvest around 9% of our income back out into bursaries for all our disciplines. There are a small amount of modest bequests to the school that also help a number of pupils.

“And those people can come from literally every walk of life. 70% of our families wouldn’t ordinarily choose to privately educate their children. The socioeconomic demographic is wide ranging, including single-parent families, families that have multiple jobs to support their children, who downsize, remortgage, limit or forgo holidays, and rely on the extended family and additional borrowing. While some of our families have parents in the knowledge economy, such as banking, tech and the media, many more are also in the service sector, healthcare, education and other walks of life from gardening to motor mechanics. 46% have some form of financial assistance from the school, including some on 100% bursary awards. I don’t want to be running a school that’s only available to the very, very wealthy.”

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