The owners of a cluster of private schools in London are in advanced discussions with City advisors around a potential sale that could prompt stiff competition among domestic and international investors, EducationInvestor Global can reveal.

This publication has learnt that the directors of Northwood Schools, which operates four schools in Southwest London, are courting advisors to assess options that could include a sale of the group.

EducationInvestor Global understands that the owners of Northwood Schools are also exploring ways to raise capital to finance the development of a senior school.

However, an advisor – once appointed – will conduct a review of the business and likely present options that include the sale of a minority or majority stake in Northwood Schools.

According to filings with Companies House, in the year ended 31 August 2019, the period for which financials are most recently available, Northwood Schools booked revenue of £16.1 million and operating profit totalling £1.05 million, down from £1.18 million a year prior.

Northwood Schools’ portfolio includes Broomwood Hall Lower school, Broomwood Hall Upper school, Northcote Lodge and Northwood Senior. The company is majority-owned by Lady Katharine Colquhoun, founder and chair, and her husband Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, a Scottish aristocrat and landowner.

Competition could be stiff for a takeover of Northwood Schools, whose latest accounts indicate is profitable – though the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the group is unclear.

Northwood Schools could draw attention from several well-backed UK-based independent school operators, such as Cognita, Dukes Education, Chatsworth Schools, Inspired Learning Group, Bellevue Education, Forfar Schools and Alpha Plus Group, as well as overseas groups such as Nord Anglia, which recently re-entered the UK through an acquisition.

China-based school operators – including Bright Scholar, which owns six UK schools – and investors could also take interest in Northwood Schools, sources suggested, as could China-backed, UK-based operators, such as KSI Education. According to Venture Education, a consultancy, Chinese investors have acquired 14 UK private schools since 2014.            

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has piled pressure on the finances of private schools across Britain, Chinese investors have continued to seek entry points to what promises, in the long run, to be a lucrative market. Last April – at the height of England’s first national lockdown – a consortium of Chinese investors bought Abbots Bromley, a closed-down boarding school in Staffordshire.

Katharine and Malcolm Colquhoun could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

This article has been corrected since publication to clarify that PwC has not been appointed by Northwood Schools.

Date published: 22 April 2021

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