Dean Close: More than a school
PUBLISHED: 10:30 20 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:30 20 April 2016
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With theatres and sports facilities, Dean Close could be a smart events venue. But its primary role will always be education. We talk to Mark Tottman, Group Marketing and Operations Director, Dean Close Foundation
Dean Close School is a co-educational day and boarding school providing education from two to 18 years. Established in 1886, it now educates 900 pupils in Cheltenham. It is also a business offering a venue for sporting activities and the arts, with unrivalled hockey facilities and two large theatres, with 550 seats and 380 seats.
However, less than a year ago, Dean Close was a group of three schools in Cheltenham: senior, prep and pre-prep. Last summer it took a strategic decision to expand, acquiring St John’s on the Hill prep school at Chepstow which added a pre-prep school and three nurseries.
With eight schools to manage, the Dean Close Foundation was set up to include a commercial arm, which now offers the school’s facilities out to the community. This includes a swimming pool, chapel, hockey pitches, the Bacon theatre, holiday revision courses and summer camps.
Mark Tottman explains: “We have some of the town’s best facilities and want to make the most of them.” Gloucester Rugby is one high profile organisation which takes advantage of Dean Close’s sporting facilities. “Our aim is to position the school for the 21st century without losing the family nature of each individual school, which is what we are all about. That’s our challenge and we’re doing quite well.”
However, being bigger brings advantages. “We can do things we couldn’t before, we have income diversification and are more attractive to the wider market. We can generate economies of scale through back office functions. Sharing systems across eight schools is better than across three, and parents at our newly-acquired prep and pre-prep schools can take advantage of the top private education that Dean Close senior school offers in Cheltenham.”
Academically, Dean Close aims to replicate the DNA of the school across all its sites. “Our education is grounded and genuinely focuses on the individual,” explains Mark. “We deal with a wide range of pupils. From those with Oxbridge ambitions to those who want to get a job at 16. We teach all our students to be flexible, creative and disciplined, and to be able to take that into their future work.”
Dean Close is sharing its professional expertise across all eight schools, which also gives its teachers an opportunity to develop. “Our director of admissions is working in Chepstow on a short term basis and she’s really enjoying it,” says Mark.
Dean Close attracts pupils from Cheltenham and across whole of the UK. It has around 20% of international pupils too. Private schools are as much of a business as any commercial company featured elsewhere across this magazine, and many choose to grow in different ways. Some seek stronger relationships with successful schools such as Dean Close, which has a turnover of around £25 million. “Others set up satellite schools overseas,” says Mark. “We don’t have any immediate plans to do that, but we could.” The school does, however, have a relationship with a school in Uganda and links with a school in India. Commercially Dean Close has recently launched a Heritage clothing range.
Mark has worked at Dean Close School since 2004. He brings with him a strong business background. “I used to work as a management consultant and was also a company director. Then I decided on a career change so I retrained as a teacher. Now, when I’m not running the academic side of the school and overseeing the marketing and commercial activities, I teach business and economics to Dean Close sixth formers and I love it.”
Learning the theory of economics and business from a teacher who is applying everything he’s teaching surely has to be of huge benefit to the school’s sixth formers.