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Cognita Schools
Privately held company
Industry Independent schools
Founded 2004
Founders Englefield Capital and Sir Chris Woodhead
Headquarters Milton Keynes, England
Number of locations
67 schools (2016)
Area served
United Kingdom, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and Chile
Key people
Ralph Kugler, Chairman; Chris Jansen, Group Chief Executive Officer
Owner Bregal Fund and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts L.P.
Website Cognita

Cognita, a subsidiary of Cognita Topco Limited registered in Jersey, is a private company which owns and operates independent schools throughout the United Kingdom, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and Chile and is expanding in Asia and Latin America.[1][2] Cognita was founded by Chris Woodhead, previously Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England, in 2004. The first Cognita Group school was Quinton House, in Northampton. Based in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK, Cognita currently has a portfolio of 67 schools in 7 countries, employs some 4,800 teachers and educates over 30,000 children in a variety schools, including nursery, pre-preparatory, preparatory and senior schools as well as all-through bilingual and international schools.[3]

The company posts losses annually. The total comprehensive loss in 2014 was £37 million growing by 11% in 2015 to a total comprehensive loss of £41 million.[4] Moody's assigned a sub-prime[5] B2 rating to Cognita in 2015 reflecting opening leverage of 7.6x in the year ending August 2015; large planned capital expenditure, mainly financed by the cash on balance sheet but also limiting free cash flow generation in the next two years.; reliance on its academic reputation and brand quality in a highly regulated environment and exposure to changes in the political and legal environment in emerging markets.[6]

In 2014 the company's principal founder, Chris Woodhead, resigned from the company along with four other key directors.[7] In 2015 the company restructured its debts registering a new mortgage charge in favour of U.S. Bank Trustees Limited.[8]


Cognita was formed in October 2004 by its founder management team and Englefield Capital, a private equity firm, now called Bregal Capital, and its former chairman, Sir Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools in England.[9] From 2004 Cognita started operating its first school, Quinton House School in Northampton. Later in 2004, Cognita acquired the Asquith Court Group, bringing a further 18 schools into the group. From 2004 until 2007, they continued to buy independent schools within the UK.

In 2007 Cognita spread internationally acquiring schools in Spain and Singapore. Cognita established its first school from inception in 2009, Stamford American International School in Singapore. Also in this year, a group of three international schools were purchased in Thailand. Schools in Vietnam joined Cognita in 2011, and in 2012, Cognita bought their first school in South America, in Brazil.[10]

In August 2012 Cognita questioned the financial viability of its Ffynone House School in Swansea.[11] Following lobbying and negotiation by parents and staff of the school,[12] Cognita agreed to surrender the school to its lessor, Ffynone House School charitable trust, from which Cognita had leased the school. Cognita paid the trust £535,000 as a surrender sum and 10 years rent in advance of £270,000 and the school continues to operate with an operating surplus.[13]

On May 6th, 2013 the formerly majority British-owned company Cognita agreed to be invested in by the American private equity firm KKR Kohlberg Kravis Roberts L.P.[14]

In June 2013, Cognita expanded its network of Latin American schools through a partnership with Desarrollos Educacionales (DDEE), a Chilean private schools group operating nine national curriculum day schools under the Pumahue and Manquecura brands.[15]

In April 2014, Cognita transferred ownership of Ferndale Preparatory School, Faringdon, Oxfordshire, to Ferndale Preparatory School Limited, a parent-led consortium. This filed for administration on 22 July 2016 due to lack of pupil numbers and funding issues, leaving staff redundant. [16][17]

In December 2014, Cognita welcomed Instituto GayLussac in Niteroi, Brazil and in 2015, The International School of Barcelona and St. Andrews International School, Dusit in Bangkok became the latest schools to join the Cognita group. In March 2016, Cognita started a school from inception in Chile with the opening of Colegio Pumahue Chicauma.[10]

A further three schools joined Cognita in 2016 - International School of Barcelona and the English Montessori School in Spain along with St. Andrews International School, Dusit in Thailand.[10]


Cognita has teams in each region, with overall leadership provided by Group Chief Executive Officer Chris Jansen and Chair Ralph Kugler. Each region has educational leadership and in Europe, this is Director of Education Simon Camby, who joined Cognita in 2015, having previously been a lead Ofsted inspector and Chief Executive of the Focus Trust.[18] Simon Camby has written on the issue of GCSE reform taking place in 2017 as the first stage in a complete transformation of the exam system that will eventually affect all subjects.[19] He argues schools shouldn’t specialise so early and to such a degree that there is no room for a broad curriculum and achieving the right balance between depth and breadth is essential whilst schools must not become exam factories.[20]


Cognita has been accused of pension irregularities.[21]

In 2012, Cognita staff were instructed to impersonate parents and take tours of competing schools in Wales. This conduct was defended as a "normal" way of assessing the competition.[22]

In 2012 Judge Robert Reid QC ruled that the Cognita-owned Milbourne Lodge in Esher, Surrey, had acted unfairly in removing two children, aged eight and six, without warning after the children's parents criticized the school's parents’ association, the Friends of Milbourne Lodge, for lack of transparency in its fundraising and spending. The Judge said that the parents’ association was "somewhat shadowy" and a "shambles".[23]

Cognita's management of Southbank International School was criticised in 2011, with parents groups claiming it has "no serious interest in maximising the educational experience of ... children if it impacts on their bottom line".[24]

Southbank International School was accused of inadequately vetting staff after a teacher, William Vahey, was found to have abused pupils over several years.[25] The article also quotes the School's Chairman of Governors, Sir Chris Woodhead, stating the school carried out checks dating back 17 years on Vahey but they did not pick up on a 1969 conviction for child molestation in California: "Vahey's CV showed he had been registered as a teacher in the state of New Jersey in 1986, and Woodhead said it was reasonable to have assumed that would not have been the case if he had been convicted of child molestation. 'The system in America broke down, he said."[26]

Parents at Cognita's Saint Andrews Sukhumvit 107 School in Bangkok, Thailand, prepared a petition containing an open email to Sir Chris Woodhead in 2012 alleging lack of transparency and a disdain for parental views following a decision by Brian Rogove, Cognita's former Asia Pacific CEO, to change the leadership of the school.[27]

In 2012 Cognita's former director of education, Geraint Jones, was quoted as saying "13 weeks’ paid holiday is enough compensation for hard work during term time" and that "teachers have a duty to go beyond their classroom duties", indicating that putting up wall displays, collecting dinner money, performing lunch duties and providing cover are vital tasks of the teaching job and should not be delegated to assistants.[28] Controversially, Mr Jones also publicly criticised the inefficiency of state schools stating that it "makes him sick".[29] Mr Jones had also previously been involved in controversy as head teacher of Quinton House School at which former music teacher Sarah Cameron said her job became unbearable after she was put on a ‘hit list’ by Mr Jones. Miss Cameron brought a claim at an employment tribunal that the environment at Quinton House School became so ‘hostile’ that she was ‘too intimidated’ to turn up at the school for exam results having had her classroom moved to a cricket pavilion away from the main campus leaving her 'unsupported and isolated'.[30]

Cognita have closed a number if schools. Typically they inform the parents by a standardised letter at the last minute and then hope there is a parent buyout by distraught parents and teachers. Examples of this are Ffyonne School, Chilton Cantelo School and Ferndale School Faringdon which closed in July 2016, only surviving two years under parent ownership leaving teachers jobless.

List of Cognita schools[edit]

Schools in the United Kingdom[edit]

Schools in Spain[edit]

Schools in Singapore[edit]

Schools in Thailand[edit]

Schools in Vietnam[edit]

Schools in Brazil[edit]

Schools in Chile[edit]


  1. ^ Alistair Gray (12 March 2011). "Cognita looks abroad to expand". Financial Times. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  2. ^ David Turner (20 May 2009). "Gloom-hit schools see chances overseas". Financial Times. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Cognita History". 
  4. ^ "Financial Report 2015". 
  5. ^ "Moody's Rating Guide" (PDF). 
  6. ^ "Moody's Rating". 
  7. ^ "Financial Report 2015". 
  8. ^ "Legal Charge". 
  9. ^ "Current Investment - Cognita". Bregal Capital. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c "Cognita History". 
  11. ^ "Ffynone House School Swansea future under threat". 
  12. ^ "Parents' joy as independent school's future is secured". 
  13. ^ "FHS Trust Trustees Annual Report" (PDF). 
  14. ^ "Article: Breaking: Cognita's backers sell stake to KKR". EducationInvestor. 
  15. ^ Cognita (20 June 2013). "Cognita expands its Latin American network of schools through a partnership with Chilean private schools group". 
  16. ^ "Cognita History". April 2014. 
  17. ^ "Ferndale Community Website". 27 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Focus Education - Simon Cambs". 
  19. ^ Simon Camby (9 September 2016). "The GCSE bar has been raised". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  20. ^ Simon Camby (9 September 2016). "The GCSE bar has been raised". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  21. ^ Daniel Boffey (10 June 2012). "Woodhead Schools Pension Probe". The Observer. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  22. ^ Sherriff, Lucy (13 June 2012). "'Spies' Sent To St Michael's School In Llanelli, Wales, To Pick Up Information". Huffington Post. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  23. ^ "Cognita Expulsion Scandal". 
  24. ^ Daniel Boffey (10 April 2011). "Free schools: private firm Cognita 'milked profits'". The Observer. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "School 'failings' over paedophile William Vahey". 
  27. ^ Problems of for-profit school company, Cognita, spread to Bangkok
  28. ^ "Cognita's Geraint Jones Controversial Comments". 
  29. ^ Irena Barker (19 October 2012). "State School Inefficiency Makes Me Sick". Times Educational Supplement. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  30. ^ "Cognita's Geraint Jones Victimises Teacher". 

External links[edit]