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    Students in U.K. Schools Grow Food Amid Credit Crisis

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    Students in U.K. Schools Grow Food Amid Credit Crisis

    Post by sang_garuda on Fri Oct 31, 2008 6:17 pm

    Growing food is on the curriculum at Leaden Hall private school for girls in southwest England, and students can thank the credit crisis.

    ``Pupils are growing potatoes, tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes,'' said Diana Watkins, the head teacher of the school of 231 students, including 40 boarders, in the town of Salisbury. Planting took place in the spring, crops are tended by children and staff, and ``every patch of grass is being used,'' Watkins said.

    The money-saving strategy at Leaden Hall, which charges about 13,500 pounds ($22,000) a year for boarders, underscores how some of Britain's most expensive schools are cutting back on everything from store-bought ingredients to new classrooms in their struggle to contain fees as the credit crisis bites.

    Increased competition and costs are forcing some English schools that charge fees, known in the U.K. as public schools, to merge or close. About 30 shut down between July and September this year, compared with 25 the previous summer, according to government figures. The pace of closures may accelerate, said Richard Cairns, the head of Brighton College, a school on England's south coast.

    As the U.K. economy tilts on the brink of a recession, private boarding schools are less affordable than at any time in the past decade -- and student numbers are falling -- according to HBOS Plc unit Halifax Financial Services.

    Perse School for Girls in Cambridge has scrapped plans to introduce a new uniform, said Daniel Murton, the marketing director. Wellington College, opened by Queen Victoria in 1859, canceled as too costly a 25,000-pound sound-and-light show to celebrate its 150th anniversary next summer.

    `A Tidal Wave'

    ``There's a sense of a tidal wave coming towards us,'' said Anthony Seldon, the head of the college. ``We don't know if it is going to be a large one, an unpleasant one, or a massive one. We think many of our parents will be adversely affected. Some of them will be very significantly affected.''

    At Wellington, west of London, children who board are charged about 27,000 pounds a year. Former students include Christopher Lee, the actor famed for playing Dracula, and James Hunt, who was a Formula One world champion race-car driver.

    Average fees for boarding-school students have risen by 86 percent over the past 10 years, according to Halifax. At the same time, the number of pupils attending boarding schools that form part of England's Independent Schools Council has dropped by 14 percent, to 10,541, Halifax said in a report in March. The council represents more than 1,200 private schools.

    Isn't `Tactful'

    Capital projects will be among the first to go as bank loans become harder to obtain, said Sudhir Singh, the head of charities and education at Baker Tilly, the accounting firm that advises more than 120 independent schools in Britain.

    ``There was a facilities arms race over the last 10 years where a number of schools turned themselves into holiday camps, building swimming pools and astro-turf pitches,'' Cairns said. Such spending should be halted to keep fees in check, he said.

    Spending on major projects in 2007 rose to 690 million pounds, up 17 percent from a year earlier, according to the Independent Schools Council. Boarding-school fees average 22,000 pounds a year, said the council.

    Scaling back large building programs is at the top of the agenda for private schools, according to Clare Anning, the development officer at Red Maids' School, England's oldest private day school for girls.

    Asking parents for extra money, beyond the school fees, isn't ``tactful'' when some of them may be facing unemployment, said Anning, who also chairs a regional group on education funding. Red Maids, in Bristol, southwest England, doesn't have boarders and charges about 9,000 pounds a year.

    `Fancy Buildings'

    At Wellington, new classrooms and a science block may be delayed, according to Seldon, who last year published a biography of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    Among the critics of private schools' spending in past years is Chris Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools. He cited ``glitzy projects'' such as ``super swishy drama suites.'' Woodhead, the chairman of Cognita Schools Ltd., which owns 45 private schools, said rising costs aren't sustainable.

    Britain's economy shrank 0.5 percent in the third quarter, the most since 1990, and is heading for its first recession in 17 years.

    The crisis may ``knock some sense'' into private schools, said Martin Stephen, the head master at London's St. Paul's School, whose graduates include the poet John Milton.

    The school, on the banks of the River Thames, has been relying on 1960s pre-fabricated buildings. Last year, it was ranked the top school for boys in England by the London-based Sunday Times. St. Paul's' academic results ``show how important fancy buildings aren't,'' Stephen said.

    Schools with budgets under pressure can either cut back on projects or reduce spending, according to Jonathan Cook, the general secretary of the Independent Schools' Bursars Association, which has more than 900 members. ``That is the type of debate we are just starting to enter.''

    Stuart Westley, the head of Haileybury school, north of London, reflects a similar view. ``We simply have no idea how many numbers we may lose. No school has any idea.''


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