Providing benefits to both parents and schools

AN EDUCATION is priceless. But if you can get it at a discounted price, it’s a bargain.

And everyone loves a bargain. People wait for hours in line to get their hands on a great Boxing Day sale. They get into bidding wars for a second hand item on eBay or pinch their pennies by being buyer-savvy at thrift shops.

But now parents wanting a great education for their children, without paying an arm and a leg, can get that too thanks to a new website launched last year.

Similar to the Wotif website, where last-minute hotel rooms can be purchased at a reduced rate, School Places is a two sided, online marketplace that matches a school’s last minute, unexpected vacancies with parents looking for an enrolment at a nongovernment school.

The website has gained national attention, attracting more than 30 schools in Victoria, and over 90 schools nation-wide. To date, it has delivered over $21 million in potential enrolment revenues. School Places CEO Natalie Mactier said the website had been extremely popular as it provided benefits to both the parents and the school.

“By offering a short-term discount on the tuition fee, the parent is incentivised to fill the spot quickly and the school is able to maximise revenue by filling a seat within a classroom that would otherwise be vacant,” she said.

“Schools benefit because the additional revenue is invested back into the school community and can go towards additional resources and helping to moderate school fees in the future. It’s great for the entire school community.”

The website was the brainchild of Jeremy Wein, whose family have been involved in independent education for years. His father was on the board of a Jewish school in Melbourne and his mother was a teacher. Two years ago, a conversation between Mr Weir and his parents sparked the idea for the School Places website.

“His parents were speaking about their family and friends struggling to cope with rising school fees. (Jeremy) was thinking if a school’s seat goes empty, the school loses revenue for that vacancy. On the flip side, parents struggle to keep up with education fees,” Ms Mactier said.

“He put two and two together and came up with a way schools can offer short-term financial incentives to fill a seat and to optimise revenue.”

Mr Weir and his father pitched the idea to Paul Bassat of Square Peg, who also co-founded He loved the idea and approached Ms Mactier, who used to work for She came on board as CEO shortly after, and the website was launched in April last year.

“I wasn’t at all surprised by how popular the website was. I expected it to go well because it is a really unique idea,” she said.

“It’s not just about last minute discounts, it’s also about providing parents with a level of transparency that doesn’t normally exist. If you are looking for schools for your child, there’s not really a service to see what school has a vacancy. It’s very time consuming to call every school. Then you have to apply for schools and wait. It’s very old fashioned. On School Places, parents can register their details and receive automated information (about vacancies and discounts). There are currently about 6000 parents on our database.”

While the benefits are two-fold, there are also a few drawbacks.

“It really is for last minute vacancies. If parents have multiple children, not all of them may get a spot at the school. It’s also more catered to parents who are willing to move their children to the school last minute,” she said.

“What we are finding is this website is perfect for parents who have a child in a public school, who has planned or intended to move them to a private school, but haven’t registered them early enough.”

The discounts range from 10 per cent to 50 per cent, and the discount duration ranges from one year to six years.

Ms Mactier said School Places was set to attract even more parents and schools in the future.

“We are constantly meeting with schools every week. We have a lot of schools in the pipeline, many who are just trying to work out what vacancies they have,” she said.

“I would suggest interested parents register their details on our website as soon as possible, and we can feed the vacancies to them as they become open.”
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