by Graham Bond
Bursar, Burgess Hill Girls
According to School Fees Checker (www.schoolfeeschecker.co.uk), the average annual fees for an independent school in the UK are £20,480 for day pupils and £34,790 for boarders. It is widely acknowledged in the UK media that families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford a private education. Given the current cost-of-living crisis, it is reasonable to assume that this situation has worsened.
As an independent school in Sussex, we are committed to offering competitive fees and maximising accessibility. In fact, we have managed to maintain consistent fees in recent years, without even adjusting them for inflation. However, it is important to acknowledge that overall, fees in the private education sector have had to rise over the past few decades to cover the increasing costs of facility development and maintenance, as well as the recruitment and retention of high-quality teaching staff.
So if you aspire to provide your children with a private education but have concerns about financing, what can you do? Here are several options for you to consider.
Most schools have a bursary fund set aside to offer means-tested financial support to those families who do not have the necessary income or financial resources to afford a private education.
Most schools also offer scholarships with discounts offered to students, typically for those with outstanding talents in sport or the arts or exceptional academic performance.
In addition to financial support offered by schools themselves, there are a number of independent organisations that might be able to offer help with school fees. The Educational Trusts’ Forum has a directory of quite a few.
Suppliers like Premium Credit (www.premiumcredit.com) and My School Fee Plan (www.myschoolfeeplan.com) allow you to pay your school fees by easy to manage monthly direct debits. Some schools might also offer this option directly.
If you know that your parents want to eventually pass on some money to you or your children it might be worth having the conversation now to see if they might be willing to invest in their education. Up to £3,000 per year can be gifted tax free or for larger donations they might want to set-up a family business or trust, both of which can be used to pay school fees.
Some employers may provide support for paying your childrens’ fees via arrangements including; payment of fees as part of your remuneration package, employer scholarship schemes, salary sacrifice and tax free childcare schemes. If you are working in the Armed Forces you can apply for the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) to help with boarding school fees. On top of this, many boarding schools, including Burgess Hill Girls, offer additional discounts to families in the Armed Forces.
If you really want your child to benefit from a private education but do not believe you will be able to afford the full fourteen years from age four to eighteen, you might want to consider a hybrid option. Many families opt for state education until senior school, allowing more time to save. In UK counties with state-funded grammar schools, some families opt for private education at a younger age with the hope that the academic advancements offered in these schools can increase their chances of getting into a grammar school at age eleven.
Start saving early
You are sure to have a lot more disposable income before children arrive so why not start saving early? You can always divert the money into another investment if your plans change. Even better, consider investing your savings to grow your private school pot quicker. Be sure to make use of tax-free savings and investments like ISAs or pensions, if you are 55 or older when your children are still at school you can take up to 25% as a lump sum.
Many private schools offer additional discounts when the second or third sibling attends the school.
Consider extra costs
Be sure to understand what you get from your school fees. For example at Burgess Hill Girls, meals, after-school clubs and wrap-around care are included. At other independent schools you might have to pay extra.
Consider extra savings
Instead of extra costs you might be surprisingly pleased to hear that an independent school, particularly a prep school, can offer savings, so the real cost is not as much as you might think. Due to government funding and savings on childcare, clubs and meals we have calculated that the first year in our Prep School for some families might cost as little as £260 per month!
Speak to the school
Most independent schools will offer tailored options for paying school fees. For example, some might offer discounts if you pay a significant amount of fees upfront. Others might be willing to extend your payments for several years after your child has left to spread out the cost.
Fees do vary. For example, take our home county of Sussex where prep school annual fees vary from £6,600 to £22,290, annual senior school day fees vary from £14,190 to £28,260, and annual full boarding fees vary from £31,800 to £57,690. Typically the highest performing schools are the most selective and the most expensive but that does not guarantee they will be suitable for your child, even if they do pass the entrance exams. We would advise choosing the school that works best for your child, and where you think they will do best. Hopefully, it has fees that will work for you too. But as you would with any significant outlay, and this must surely be one of your biggest, try out a few schools and see if you can achieve further discounts via scholarships or bursaries if either is a potential option for your family. If neither, you might get a firm no, but there is no harm in asking for a discount!
Do your homework
Once you are down to your final shortlist it is time to really work out the numbers. Look at how the school’s fees increase as your child moves up the school and ask for an estimate of how fees might increase from year to year. For a true comparison you should work out the total cost for the length of time your child might be at the school, including any significant extras in addition to the fees.
If you are keen to educate your child privately but uncertain whether you have the appropriate finance, we hope this article has given you a thorough understanding of the costs and potential savings you can make. If you would like any further advice we would be delighted to speak with you. Contact our admissions team to arrange an informal chat.
To find out more about Burgess Hill Girls visit www.burgesshillgirls.com