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29 April 2014

World’s first competitive online marketplace for private school places launched by a proven team.

Australians already shop online for deals on flights, hotels and tickets, and private school places are next thanks to an innovative online service officially launched today.

“School Places” (schoolplaces.com.au) helps families search for and secure a discounted place in a private school via a transparent and simple online enrolment process. At the same time, it benefits schools and their communities by helping them optimise student numbers and revenue, and minimise the need to increase fees.

The idea for the business was conceived by 25 year old Jeremy Wein, who was using an online travel site while his father discussed a friend’s struggle with rising school fees. Having fleshed out a business plan, he secured financial and advisory support from Paul Bassat at venture capital firm Square Peg Capital. Paul is best known for co-founding SEEK, the world’s largest online employment business, which has become one of the 50 largest listed companies in Australia.

The next priority was securing a strong core team. Paul Sheahan AM, whose education credentials include Housemaster of Geelong Grammar, Principal of Geelong College from 1986-1995, and Headmaster of Melbourne Grammar School from 1995-2009, has been engaged as Chairman. Paul is also a former Australian test cricketer and Chairman of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Bob Grant AM, who was Head of Sydney’s Shore College for nearly two decades, heads business development in NSW and the ACT. School Places’ CEO is Natalie Mactier, who gained an in-depth understanding of parents’ issues and digital habits as CEO of News Corp’s Kidspot.com.au.

Founding shareholder Paul Bassat said: “Square Peg wouldn’t normally invest in an idea at such an early stage, but this is a proven business model with an innovative application, and an exceptionally talented and experienced team. We are excited about the opportunities for families to benefit from market efficiencies which may include reduced fees in some cases. Meanwhile, for private schools, the business case for optimising revenue and appealing to new audiences is also compelling”, he said.

CEO Natalie Mactier said: “I’m very excited about the potential of School Places to become the leading enrolment portal for private schools Australia-wide. While the site caters to everyone, I think it offers particular advantages for parents interested in boarding schools, as well as families overseas who are looking at Australian schools”.

Chairman Paul Sheahan said that he was drawn to School Places because there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about enrolment opportunities and processes that’s in nobody’s interest.

“School Places brings a level of transparency to the enrolment process, and it recognises that making a decision many years in advance about the right school for your child is not for everyone.

“It makes sense for parents to want to match a school to their child’s own strengths and needs, but real or perceived pressure to lock in an option early can be strong. Likewise, I know from my years as a Principal, that there are always families who want to make informed decisions in a hurry. This may be because they’ve moved, because they are unhappy with their current school, or simply because they want to make a sound financial decision once their economic circumstances are known”, he said.

In the lead up to launching, School Places has been meeting with private schools in Victoria and New South Wales one-on-one, introducing the concept and answering questions.

Paul Sheahan said that the response from private schools has been overwhelmingly positive: “The reality is that the cost of simply maintaining programs and facilities is increasing faster than the growth in family incomes, meaning that the kinds of fee increases we’ve seen in recent years are not sustainable.

“The best way to optimise revenue is to ensure that every school place is filled. For example, it’s been estimated that schools could increase their revenue by more than $350,000 over a 13-year period by filling one early learning vacancy alone.

“School Places provides schools with access to families who are looking for places, and the freedom to provide discounts or other incentives should they wish to. It’s a win for the incumbent school community because increased revenue can allow them to implement new programs, buy new equipment, improve facilities and most importantly moderate school fee increases”, he said.

Natalie Mactier advises parents to register for alerts, and act quickly if they find a place that suits their needs. “Places are limited and as soon as a place is claimed, it’s gone. However, you can register to be notified about spots that match your criteria as they arise, and the deposit you pay when reserving a place is fully refundable once you’ve completed the school’s enrolment steps or if you change your mind.”

School Places is launching with 11 private schools in Victoria initially, with expansion into New South Wales planned by July.

How it works

School Places works by inviting participating schools to load details of vacancies, including the year level, the full published fee and any discounts on offer in to the back end of the School Places website.

When parents go to schoolplaces.com.au and type in the class, region and enrolment year they are specifically interested in, the website advises whether places are available. Parents can filter the search results in a number of ways such as boys/girls/co-ed schools and by geographic distance from their home. If parents wish to apply for a place that is available, the site invites them to provide relevant details and pay a fully refundable deposit. These details are automatically forwarded to the partner school and the place is temporarily reserved for them. The parent then has three days to contact the school and complete the school’s usual enrolment process.

Parents will have the option to register for alerts if a place is not currently available.