Setting Up An Independent School: is the dream realistic?

The dream of setting up a small independent school for local children—perhaps in collaboration with other parents you know—is an alluring one for a lot of people, especially those who home-school their kids and are a part of wider home-schooling community. If you've been tossing the idea around, perhaps with your partner or with fellow home-schooling parents you know, there are a few things you should be prepared for before you take the plunge. 

If you decide to take on this challenge, congratulations! Running an independent school can be a massively rewarding experience, and done well it can be brilliant for the teachers and staffers as well as for the children who attend. Make sure you're well prepared and properly supported before you begin, and steel yourself for some hard work—but enjoy the journey, too, and never lose sight of the reason you're doing this.

Decide early on exactly what your motivations and mission statement are.

If you want to do this, chances are it's because you have some specific opinions and requirements about what education should be like—at least for your own children. If that's the case, it's important that you're very clear about what those are and that you're equally clear about them with everyone involved. If you believe in self-guided learning with an emphasis on the arts, you want to avoid accidentally going into business with someone who wants to set up an extremely disciplinarian religious school.

Make sure you have a wide range of skills and experience types on your committee.

That doesn't mean you should work only with people who are from your exact background, however. The planning committee you set up at the beginning of this process will be your school's board of directors and governors by the end of it—so it's essential that they're as broad a church as possible. An ideal mix could include a couple of people who have years of experience teaching the ages your school will be open to; a couple of people whose specialisation is business and who have a solid understanding of the monetary concerns and a couple of people who are deeply involved in the local community. If you can find someone with experience working for your state's regulatory educational body, that's even better.

Have a solid budget plan, and consult an accountant quite early on in the process.

The money is always going to be the make-or-break thing, so you need to start looking for investors as early as possible. An accountant can help you draw up a business plan, and give you a realistic idea of the kind of fees you're going to need to charge. The sooner you can put your financial backing and forecasting together, the more realistic this pipe dream becomes—it's the numbers that make it real, and once you've got those you'll find it much easier to get sceptical parents engaged.