Llandovery College Debts are Symptom of Education becoming Unaffordable
The debt problems of Llandovery College are symptomatic of the wall against which our financial expectations have crashed. For most of us, the chances that our incomes will purchase a fairly comfortable lifestyle are disappearing down a one-way road signposted ‘yesterday’.
The temptation to look for an easy way out is beguiling. The decision to close the failing company, Llandovery College, and to open a new one – Llandovery College (Wales) Ltd, registered on June 20th 2012 – might be legal, but it doesn’t strike me as ethical to leave the previous debts unpaid and to carry on operating much as before.
Latest published accounts show that those debts totalled nearly £4 million at August 31st 2010 – almost two years ago. To the current liabilities – due within of one year, i.e. by August 31st 2011 – of £2.516 million we should add the long-term liabilities of £1.370 million, a total of £3.886 million. What is more, despite new loans, the college made no interest payments in 2007-08, 2008-09 or 2009-10. Staff numbers declined from 117 in 2006-07 to 78 in 2009-10.
The 292 pupils on roll at the start of the 2011-12 academic year are too few to sustain current operations, let alone repay past debts, without seeking fee increases that very few parents would be able to afford. The median household income in the Llandovery electoral ward, in which the college is located, was £19,570 in 2011, according to Carmarthenshire County Council. The local area will not provide many pupils, even after the town’s state secondary school, Pantycelyn, has closed down (as part of the county council’s ‘modernisation’ plans). The annual fees at Llandovery College are, in 2011-12, £14,370 in the senior school for a day pupil, £21,600 for a boarder domiciled in the UK, and £24,360 for foreign students.
It is the erosion of middle-class incomes that is primarily responsible for the college’s financial plight. The galloping inequality between the few top incomes and majority incomes means that independent schools have to recruit from around the world, fracturing ties between schools and communities. Llandovery College has long been popular with Chinese families, but does not have quite the prestige required to compete internationally with Eton, Westminster, Winchester, St Paul’s and their like.
As for the current pupils, is it a good example to imply that repaying debts is not important, that you just close an insolvent business and open a new one? What about the organisations and people – including the staff – who are not being paid?
I appreciate that there are no easy answers, that many pupils (my elder son included, over 20 years ago) benefited from their time at the college, that the local community has been able to enjoy the sports hall and the playing fields, but the bigger picture is of growing unaffordability of all types of education.
The average cost of providing education for each pupil in the UK’s state secondary schools in 2010-11 was £10,348. How many households with median income of £19,570 could afford to educate even one child post-11, if they had to bear the cost? Current government thinking is predicated on ‘freeing’ enterprise through tax cuts, penalising the less well-off through cuts in public services, and hoping that showers of wealth will percolate from the top of the income tree to branches further down. Wealth in the 21st century, however, is more likely to transform into real estate and luxurious lifestyles based in tax havens, rather than trickle down to the jobless in West Wales. Llandovery College setting up a new company is not going to solve the issue of education’s rising unaffordability, and sets a questionable ethical example into the bargain.
 ‘Education and Training Statistics for the UK 2011’ from the Department for Education. Table 1.3 shows there were 3,888,700 pupils in maintained secondary schools in the UK. Annexe A gives the total cost of secondary education as £40.241 billion, which divided by 3.8887 million is £10,348.