As we reach the first anniversary of Wishford’s partnership with Patron Capital, it has been interesting and useful to pause and reflect.
My family and I founded the Wishford Schools group in 2011 with the aim to bring together a small group of schools with a shared ethos and approach. Our belief was that the schools, and therefore ultimately the pupils, would benefit from being part of a group that could bring strong leadership and governance, capital investment and financial security, and the opportunity to share expertise and best practice. The group today comprises eight prep schools and one senior school, in total educating 2,500 pupils and employing over 600 staff.
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Our vision that schools could be stronger and better within a supportive, encouraging group, has proved to be correct. The clearest measure of this success is that in the current inspection cycle (the past six years) every one of our schools that has been inspected has been awarded the highest possible grade of Excellent in all areas. Alongside this, pupil numbers have grown, ensuring that our schools are able to operate efficiently and generate the funds needed to continue to invest in the people, resources and facilities that enable that excellent provision.
About four years ago, we realised we needed to bring in a new investment partner to support the ongoing development of the group. We’d always had external investors, since owning and operating schools takes significant capital, and we had ambitious plans for each of our schools. Having previously worked in the financial sector, I had a good idea of the type of investor that would fit with our ethos and approach, and more importantly the type we wanted to avoid! After a long, careful process, we selected Patron as the right partner to support us. I had spent a lot of time getting to know the Patron team and its founder, Keith Breslauer. Through this process, I was able to reassure myself that there was a strong alignment in our approach, and that the vision and ethos which my family and I had set out on founding the group would only be enhanced by the partnership.
One year on, the partnership is developing nicely.
Our first action was to create a new independent Education Advisory Board, comprising three highly experienced former Heads. This group is mandated to work alongside the Wishford team as part of our governance and quality assurance process to support and challenge our leadership teams, offering guidance and the benefit of deep and broad experience. Their involvement can only enhance the excellent provision already in place and are a sign of Patron’s commitment to putting the pupil at the heart of everything we do as a group. Alongside this, we have been able to restart our curriculum development days, which bring together leaders from across the group to share experience and best practice. Already this year, we’ve been able to use these days to offer high-quality professional development to our staff in areas such as the Early Years, Maths, Computer Science and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
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Secondly the partnership has strengthened the group’s financial position and balance sheet. Significant new investment has been provided to the group, all in the form of perpetual equity, allowing us to repay third-party borrowing and ensuring the group is well capitalised and fighting fit to withstand the energy price increases, a weakening economy and any challenges a change of government may bring in the future. As part of this, we were also able to take ownership of the freehold of Westonbirt School, which had previously been held by a third party, ensuring common ownership of the school and property for the long-term, in line with our approach throughout the group.
Finally, we have been able to bring forward an exciting programme of investment throughout the group which has already benefited pupils and will continue to do so for many years to come. Schools have already received new investment in teaching resources and technology, and this will continue to roll out over the coming years. New teaching spaces have already been created in a number of schools, with planning applications submitted or in development elsewhere. Investment has been made in sports provision and the arts, in pupil-welfare facilities and in less glamorous but nevertheless essential infrastructure and fabric of our sites.
A busy first year, undoubtedly. We look forward to the coming years with excitement and optimism, a renewed sense of purpose and an ongoing commitment to delivering excellence for the benefit of every pupil in our schools.
Sam Antrobus, Executive Chairman