FEAR OF FINANCE

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The Independent Online
September and the start of the academic year (unless you happen to have stepped down as headmaster at Charterhouse). A friend confesses that he has finally succumbed and sent the first of his brood off to private school - the child's development to date being enough to undermine the most firmly held principles. The boy is even struggling with English and it is his mother tongue.

The bill for the first term has been as welcome as a French nuclear scientist in the arrival hall at Papeete International Airport. But at least it is the end to a moral dilemma. There had been sleepless nights over the lad, who was in danger of graduating as a professional joyrider. Then there were his "associates'' to consider, not to mention the developing accent that was demanding an audition for Eastenders.

My friend has only written one cheque but he is already a broken man, burbling incoherently about the need to Pep this and endow that. The problem is that there is little left over each month with which to Pep or endow.

Worse still, school fees are only half of the financial vice. He also needs to move house to accommodate his growing clan. But he is wallowing in negative equity and will need to mortgage to the moon to afford anything half reasonable. He has seen the future and it is no day at the beach.

If you want to send your children to private school the conventional wisdom is that you should start to save for education fees when they are born. If you don't you may not be able to afford it and you will always blame yourself if your child ends up three UCAS points short of a graduation party.

Private school fees do not follow the normal ups and downs of inflation cycles. Rather they favour the linear approach, starting at the bottom left hand corner of the graph and adopting the early trajectory of a launch from Cape Canaveral.

To put two children through an average performing independent day school from the age of 11 will probably cost pounds 80,000. Now assume school fee inflation of between 5 and 6 per cent (for the six years to 1991/92 it was in double digits) and you are looking at around pounds 140,000 in real terms before the optional extras.

Which brings you to another moral dilemma - music lessons. Every parent dreams of turning out socially accomplished offspring. And little Johnny did learn to play Bah Bah Black Sheep on the recorder in record time. But that does not necessarily mean he is destined for the Albert Hall.

The music lessons are extra. You are looking at between pounds 8 and pounds 10 an hour for, say, a violin teacher who, more likely than not, will rapidly lose interest in your child. Stefane Grappelli the boy ain't. By the end of the first term you have parted company with pounds 100 for 10 lessons and the kid can barely reproduce a tortured scale in A Major. That works out at pounds 12.50 a note, and not a very pleasant one at that.

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