How to keep down the costs of your child's private education

Schools are putting a lid on their fees but parents are still finding it hard to afford them. Neasa MacErlean offers some tips on saving money

Private schools are keeping their fee increases this year to historic lows but, even so, many parents of the 500,000 children enrolled in this sector will struggle to meet the payments. So how can costs be kept down? One trick which parents could miss at the outset is the low-profile school which offers far more value than might be expected. "A school can be outstanding in every category of inspection and have low fees," says Neil Roskilly, chief executive officer of the Independent Schools Association.

"Parents should check inspection reports carefully, as they could find that a lesser-known private school in their area could provide great value for money and also offer an excellent potential outcome for their child."

One such school is Oakhyrst Grange, a co-ed prep school with 150 pupils in Caterham. Its early years section has been rated as outstanding in the last two Ofsted inspections; its older classes are all outstanding or good; nearly a quarter of leaving pupils get scholarships or other awards; and it has a three-year waiting list. Its fees this year range, by age, from £2,024 per term to £2,450. These rates bring it in £500 lower per term than similar schools in the area. "We're a charitable trust," says headmaster Alex Gear. "We have no debts or borrowing. All the money we make is reinvested into resources, first and foremost staffing and then new buildings or IT."

Eton College, the school David Cameron attended, is charging £11,090 a term this year and Harrow will charge £5 more. Boarding fees are built into these prices. But much of the rest of the cost relates to "extras", mainly in sports and culture.

Fees this year are typically going up by 3 to 3.5 per cent, according to the Independent Schools Association. But, Mr Roskilly says, "there's a lot of variation". Pupil numbers are falling slightly. There were over 506,000 pupils in the sector in 2012, and 504,000 in 2013, according to the Independent Schools Council. Most of the drop relates to a fall in boarders.

Parents on a tight budget will soon discover that a third of pupils in private schools receive some form of contribution, typically worth £4,000. This can be a big help towards school fees which, in Greater London, for instance, average £4,600 a term. The most common fee reduction comes through bursaries. There are also scholarships and then other discounts given as means-tested awards. "Siblings and other discounts are worth negotiating," says Mr Roskilly.

Fee levels vary considerably by region. The Independent Schools Council's Census 2013 data show fees in the north average £3,054 a term, a third less than the London rate. That gap could widen in future, as demand is increasing in London, the south-east and East Anglia but has fallen nearly 10 per cent since 2007 in the north.

Certain types of school are faring better than others. Single-sex girls schools in the more remote locations are not generally flourishing in the way that co-ed is. Many girls schools have experienced a slow and steady decline in numbers, so parents may find the door ajar if they want to negotiate on fees. Data from the Girls' School Association suggests a fall of about 1 per cent in numbers between 2011 and 2013.

When parents are researching schools a useful question to ask is the amount of debt that an institution has. If Oakhyrst Grange sees its lack of debt as an important factor in its success, then other schools could be vulnerable by being dependent on the banks. When a bank decides to revalue a school's biggest financial asset, its premises, the new valuation these days will often reveal a slump in value since loans and overdrafts were last agreed. If the figures do not match up well, it is up to the bank to decide whether to pull out the rug. "This is because of the banks' need to recapitalise," says Mr Roskilly. "They see schools as a soft touch."

But some new, interesting owners are entering the market – specialist venture capitalists, for instance, which have often made a notable success of these educational projects.

Parents may worry that schools with financial difficulties will let their standards drop, by recruiting fewer teachers, perhaps, or spending less on facilities. However, the Independent Schools Association reports a substantial 15 per cent increase of £100m in capital expenditure in 2012-13. Many schools will be seeking to refurbish existing buildings rather than to build new ones but the costs incurred are still significant. IT spending is pretty much a necessity on a regular basis, as technology is developing so fast.

The financial climate in state schools is also changing. More children are qualifying for free school meals. But, teachers report, this does not create embarrassment in the classroom. "The benefits culture isn't looked down on these days," says a London junior school teacher. "It's the reverse." So more children get free uniforms and trips as well as free meals. "I've never seen any embarrassment," she continues, talking about the eight-year olds she teaches.

A positive trend in the state sector could come from the alumni system starting to be created. Following the success of such schemes at Eton and Harrow, which have helped fund those schools for hundreds of years, some state schools are setting up their own. The charity Future First is working with over 500 schools on these schemes. It estimates schools can typically unlock the best part of £30,000 of donations in a year. And some of the contact with alumni of senior schools in tough areas has produced dramatic results.

When pupils meet alumni who have done well in the workplace, about 80 per cent of the children come out more motivated regarding their work prospects and say they are going to study harder.

Battling a divorce: A tough fight to see her kids through, but worth it

Sally has had to fight hard to see her daughter and son through their private boarding school but she is delighted that she did.

"The pastoral care was over and beyond what you'd expect," she says. "That's what boarding schools are for – amazing role models who are truly compassionate." The children were suffering from the backlash of a nasty divorce, and their father did not want them to continue at the school. But in the court deliberations, the judge largely sympathised with Sally (not her real name) on the question of education. The judge ordered the couple to pay the school fees in advance out of the proceeds of the sale of the family home. "The school gives you a discount for paying up front," explains Sally.

But there were further complications. Sally had to ask the judge for a contingency fund. This was because the children, both gifted musicians, were on means-tested bursaries. This meant that their fees were usually discounted by between 50 and 75 per cent. However, Sally was not working and wanted to find a job. When she managed that, the bursaries would decrease. Her ex-husband opposed the idea of the contingency fund but the judge agreed.

Now that both children have left school, Sally is mightily relieved that her battles are over.


Independent Schools Council (which has information on finding a school):

Future First:

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

    £550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

    £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape