Ten Questions from Parents
Is the school prepared and ready to accept staff and students back at work?
Yes, we are ready. The School has conducted the necessary risk assessment and is implementing a detailed daily Protocol with regards to Covid-19. We are prepared to accept people back into the campuses and intend doing so on a staggered, risk-based approach. We intend to accept staff and students back on a gradual basis, so that we can see the effectiveness of the measures we have put in place. The buildings have been prepared and staff trained to manage the gradual influx of more teachers and students in the days ahead. Further details on what to expect upon the school’s reopening for students and within each key stage area, will also be shared in our weekly newsletters in the coming weeks.
My employment and financial situation have been seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Can the school provide any assistance?
We do appreciate that many families are finding themselves in challenging financial circumstances and we have put in place measures to try and help families who wish to spread this term’s fees over monthly instalments. We are also happy to discuss a fee deferral and longer-term repayment plan, in special circumstances, which is similar in concept to the banks’ ‘payment holiday’ approach (although we would provide such deferral interest free). Further, we are looking at setting up a specific hardship fund to help our families who find themselves in genuine need. We also understand that there will be some families who decide that they can no longer commit to an independent school education during these difficult times. Please do get in touch with our School Business Manager, Gregg Murray, if you would like to discuss any of these options further.
Under the terms and conditions of the parent contract, there is no provision which permits parents to suspend or “opt out” of the contract for any period of time and then opt back in when school resumes. Our School Business Manager can discuss with you the options which we have available, as noted above.
Have the school’s expenses decreased during lockdown?
Unfortunately this has not been the case. Our school’s operating cost model is largely based on staff related expenses (> 70%) and other fixed costs such as rent, facilities and IT infrastructure- these noted costs alone comprise 90% of our operating budget. There have been some savings during lockdown, although these have been relatively minor. These include line items such as transport (and accordingly no transport charges are passed on to parents over this period), printing, and some property maintenance. Most other items have changed very little, while the cost of preparing the school to make it compliant with regulations has exceeded R 90 000 in the past two weeks. Purchases made so far include: temperature scanners, sanitizing liquids and dispensers, masks and face shields for staff, protective clothing, tripods and iPad stands for online teaching. In addition to recent bulk purchases of iPads for students and allowance for their use over this period, we have also supported staff and others in need with hardware and data to facilitate remote learning. Rates, municipal levies and taxes are all still payable. We will likely be going well over time and well over budget as we transition through this crisis.
Whilst we cannot comment on the financial situation or model of other schools, as far as we are aware, generally other independent schools in the area, like us, have not been able to offer general fee reductions during this period.
What is the school doing to reduce costs?
Any unnecessary expense has been cut and we are rationalising all costs as we move into our new budget cycle. Costs related to sports, coaches and extra mural activities were the first to be affected. Any budget related to group events, plays, tours, excursions has been frozen. The most obvious solution would be to reduce the salary bill as has been done in many other companies. Staff at ISCT do not receive the same benefits as State and some other independent schools who include medical and housing allowances in their salary packages. We would like to retain our staff remuneration for as long as possible, which is commensurate with their efforts over this period.
The rental paid monthly at Struben House is another consideration; however, the owners of Struben House are the Cape Town Child Welfare Society and they are heavily dependent on the rental we pay to continue functioning.
Why is it necessary to change school holidays dates during lockdown?
Teachers have found the change in teaching from the usual “classroom face to face” style to presenting work online via Zoom and using the Google suite an exhausting exercise. Parents have also expressed the added stress of this type of learning for their children. Short, more frequent breaks should make this more sustainable in the short term.
What are the owners of the school doing to assist at this time?
The owners of the ISCT, the Education Development Trust, remain committed to the long-term viability of the school. They are a registered UK charity which has no owners and does not make profits for anyone. It holds limited reserves for specific purposes. All of the Trust’s income comes from service delivery and its financial model requires that each area of its activity must fully cover its costs. As a result of the Coronavirus crisis they anticipate that income will be reduced in all areas of their activities. The Trust as a whole, even after the extensive cost-saving measures that it has put in place, will be in deficit this financial year. The Trust is therefore already using its reserves to ensure its continuing operation.
Why isn’t there a reduction for Nursery and Reception children as my children can’t access the online learning on their own?
We appreciate that our younger children will require more support with their learning than our older pupils. However, our fixed costs for the younger children are very similar to those of the rest of the school and in fact our staff costs for our younger children are actually higher than for our older children because of the higher teacher: pupil ratios required. For example, our 3 – 5 year olds require a ratio of one adult to every 8 children. The fees for Nursery and Reception are significantly lower than for the higher classes yet the teachers are paid on the same salary scales.
I am not happy with the online curriculum the school is providing and I don’t think it is worth the amount we are being asked to pay.
Whilst we recognise that our online curriculum cannot perfectly replicate the experience the children would be having if they were in school, we are nevertheless very proud of what our teachers have put in place over the past weeks to ensure continuity of learning for their pupils. The children’s weekly online learning includes all the core subjects which they would have been covering in school, including those which are important for maintaining well-being, such as Art and Music.
In normal circumstances, the school provides an educational service that results in a set of educational outcomes. These outcomes include developing learning skills, developing knowledge across a range of different subjects in the curriculum. These outcomes are measured using teacher and formal assessments. The school’s resourcing and cost structure facilitates the delivery of these outcomes. In the Covid-19 situation in which we find ourselves, these outcomes have not changed. These outcomes remain the key determinant of the “quality” of the education delivered by the school. Fees do not normally vary based on individual changes in “inputs” being provided or day-to-day changes in a parent’s satisfaction with the service. For example, if a subject were added to a pupil’s timetable, the fee would not increase. Similarly, if an activity were removed from the main curriculum, the fee would not decrease.
Importantly, the online platform is constantly evolving and improving. The fact is this was put together in a crisis and an interim solution and we have all had a massive learning curve in the past 55 days.
I have already paid my fees for the year. What if other parents opt not to pay theirs or say they are only going to pay a proportion of the fees?
As we hope all parents appreciate, the school must continue to receive a level of income sufficient to enable it to continue to provide its service to its pupils and parents. If income levels drop, it will become harder for the school to continue to provide education to the high standards our pupils deserve. For the benefit of all the school’s pupils, it is vital that those aims continue to be achieved and so the damage that financial loss causes must be kept to a manageable level. We must therefore point out that we cannot negotiate different levels of discount. Fees are payable according to the terms and conditions of our contract with all parents. Non-payment of the fees will be pursued according to the usual procedures.
If a family’s financial situation means that a longer-term payment plan is needed, or if a family meets the means-tested criteria for assistance from the hardship fund being considered, these options can be discussed with our School Business Manager.
What are my options if I choose not to send my child back to school.
We plan to continue to offer an online programme and students will be able to access the lessons which will be recorded in some instances. We fully understand parent concerns around health and related issues and we trust their children will still continue to progress while learning remotely from home, if required.