It’s a case of good news and bad with private school fees at the moment. Recent research by Halifax Financial Services has found that school fees in the UK have increased by 41 per cent since 2003. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) the average increase in member school fees was 6.2 per cent in 2007/8. In some schools, however, the increase was as much as 10 per cent, with some heads pointing to rising staff costs as the reason for the steep increase.
The credit crunch has made some headteachers apply the brakes and limit their increases so that they hover around the rate of inflation. Others are storming ahead, though, with St Paul’s School for Girls leading the pack with an increase of a 14 per cent for 2008/2009.
This year Vicky Tuck, head of Cheltenham Ladies College, has restricted her fee increase to four per cent «in anticipation of harder times to come». With inflation running at 3.8 per cent currently, it’s a competitive move. The City of London School for boys is one of the few top schools to keep its current increase below the rate of inflation, with a rise of just two per cent. The school is based in the Square Mile and educates a large number of bankers’ sons, so with rumours of jobs in jeopardy and falling bonuses, it’s a prudent move.
Prestige comes at a price
To send your daughter to Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 2008 will cost £28,735 for the year or £9578 per term. These figures are representative of the cost of the famous, exclusive and long-established independent boarding schools in Britain, such as Eton, Roedean and Harrow.
Small class sizes mean more attention Search within a slightly lower price range and you’ll find a wealth of boarding schools that may not have the kudos of the famous schools but offer a superb all-round education. For instance, in 2007 at St Catherine’s School in Bramley 93.7 per cent of pupils achieve grade A/B at A level and the school is ranked 43rd in The Sunday Times league table of independent secondary schools. In 2008, fees for boarders are £6840 per term (or £20,520 per year), which is a significant saving on the more famous independents.
To get a great education at a competitive price you have to weigh up what is important to you and your children. For instance, Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth may not have the dreaming spires of Charterhouse and the heritage of Eton, but it has a strong academic record and is priced competitively at £2150 per term for boarders.
It’s interesting to note that in the 2007 Sunday Times league table for independent secondary schools, Talbot Heath was placed joint 79th with Benenden, which costs £9180 per term.
Day schools that don’t break the bank
Private day schools can be a more affordable alternative to boarding schools. Fees tend to start at around £2500 per term and some schools will allow you to pay monthly from your salary, which many people find more manageable than three hefty bills a year.
Fees at the prestigious inner London day schools range between £3500 and £6700 per term, but outside the capital costs tend to inflict less damage on the wallet. Plus, the further north you go, the lower school fees tend to be.
For instance, the High School of Glasgow, ranked joint first in The Sunday Times league table of independent Scottish secondary schools, charges fees of £2460 per term in senior school. The oldest school in Scotland, it dates back to 1124 and includes two prime ministers in its alumni (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Andrew Bonar Law), as well as broadcaster and ‘Grumpy Old Woman’, Muriel Gray.
In the Midlands and the north of England, many former grammar schools that are now independent day schools offer similar value for money and an excellent all-round education. For instance, fees at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle are £2354 a term in junior school and £2793 in senior school, and can be paid at the beginning of term or by direct debit in 10 installments. Results are impressive, with 90.5 per cent of pupils gaining grade A or B at A-level.
Savings for families
Some private schools offer a reduction in fees of between 10 or 20 per cent if you send several children to the same school. There are caveats, however. The reduction may only be applicable to the third child in a family and all of your children may have to be in attendance at the school for you to qualify for the discount.
Scholarships and bursaries can make private education affordable to some families, and 30 per cent of children in independent schools receive some form of assistance. Read our articles on scholarships and bursaries for more information.
Once you’ve budgeted for fees it’s so important to bear in mind the extra costs, such as uniform, school trips, sports kit and club membership. A typical bill shows all these extras in our feature on how to cut costs.
School fees: 2008/9
Cheltenham Ladies College £28,734
Eton College £28,080
Abbey, Reading £10,980
Leeds Grammar £9594
Manchester High School for Girls £8634