Repton, the prestigious British private school group, is looking to consolidate its position in the UK and internationally, where it plans to launch four new schools in the coming years, a newly appointed executive told this publication.
Daniel Lewis, managing director of Repton International Schools, the overseas arm of Repton School in Derbyshire, joined the organisation in February from RSAcademics, an educational consultancy.
Lewis, who spearheaded North London Collegiate School’s international operations in Dubai and South Korea for nearly a decade, told EducationInvestor Global in an exclusive interview that Repton is scaling at home and overseas.
Repton already has four new international schools in the pipeline – two in Egypt, one in Qatar, and another in Bulgaria – which will open over the next four years.
These new institutions will bolster Repton’s existing portfolio of six international schools – four in the United Arab Emirates, one in Malaysia, which opened last September, and another in China.
Across its global portfolio, Repton, whose UK school was founded in 1557, educates “just under” 6,000 students, according to Lewis.
Lewis said that Repton, which took its first steps outside the UK in 2007 when it launched Repton School Dubai, is also “looking at” opportunities in the US, as well as markets in Eastern Europe and central Asia.
“I think that in the next five-to-10 years, markets that have been very popular over the past decade will start to mature,” said Lewis. “Southeast Asia is already getting quite full, but we’re continuing to look at further development in China. Indonesia is very interesting but challenging.
“I’m quite keen on the US, particularly the West coast, which has a lot of good state schools while the East coast has a number of highly regarded privates. I also think Europe is going to become a hotspot for British private schools in the years to come.”
Repton – like most British private schools that have launched offshoots overseas – has a number of ‘local partner’ organisations, which finance the development of campuses in exchange for the lion’s share of their revenues.
Lewis said that development costs “vary significantly” depending on the size of school and where it is located but noted that a greenfield project could set a local partner back £30-60 million. So-called brownfield developments, which involve turning around or redeveloping an existing school, are “considerably cheaper”, Lewis added.
Under typical franchise contracts with developers, British schools get 2-8% of an overseas school’s annual revenue in exchange for educational expertise and branding, among other things. UK schools are rarely required to provide capital upfront.
According to Lewis, an overseas campus can take up to seven years to become profitable.
“I think there’s a misconception among many in the industry that three-to-four years is the timeline in which an international school should be profitable,” said Lewis. “I think that’s overly optimistic, and, in reality, investors should take a five-to-seven-year view in most instances.”
Lewis pointed out that a number of Repton’s overseas schools are “in a development phase” and, as a result, are not operating at maximum capacity. The group’s school in Malaysia, for instance, is a brownfield turnaround project and relaunched last September following a rebrand. Repton’s second school in Dubai recently rebranded as Repton Al Barsha, changing its name from Foremarke School Dubai.
“It’s fair to say that most of our international schools have a way to go in terms of building capacity,” said Lewis.
Revenue generated by Repton International is used to fund so-called transformational bursaries at the UK mothership.
“We want to use the income from overseas projects in the most impactful way possible, giving pupils from under-privileged backgrounds a life-changing opportunity,” said Lewis. “It’s all about enhancing social mobility.” Repton partners with social mobility charity Royal SpringBoard on its transformational bursary scheme.
Meanwhile in the UK, Repton in September ‘merged’ with St Wystan’s, a nearby independent preparatory school and nursery that had faced financial hardship in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
EY-Parthenon, a consultancy, has estimated that up to 7% of private schools in Britain – as many as 180 – are at risk of insolvency as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Lewis said that Repton is in “active discussions” with other charity-backed schools in the UK around further ‘mergers’ – and added that the group will consider additional opportunities.
“In times of crisis, opportunities arise,” said Lewis. “Repton is in a good position to help struggling schools, stabilise them and benefit from the economies of scale.
“I’m keen for us to consolidate and we’re certainly open to looking at other opportunities in the UK.”
When two UK charities – as in the case of Repton School and St Wystan’s – merge, cash is never exchanged and more often than not a smaller, a less financially stable institution is absorbed by a larger entity with similar charitable objectives.
Last month, two separate mergers of charity-backed British independent schools were announced in the same week. Such deals illustrate how institutions that have weathered the pandemic are in a position to spare cash-strapped schools from insolvency while enhancing their footprints in the process.
Filings with the Charity Commission show that in the year ended 31 August 2019 – the period for which financial data is most recently available – Repton School recorded income of £17.1 million.
Date published: 26 March 2021