25 January 2021
Everyone is affected by the current situation whether or not we, or those close to us, have contracted Covid-19. There will be few whose income has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic and many will continue to suffer a severe drop in financial resources with the uncertainty ahead.
Independent schools are in the same position. Many are extremely worried about the consequences of parents being forced to withdraw their children and increasing uncertainty regarding recruitment for September 2021 and beyond.
Since the first lockdown in March last year, independent schools have become adept at providing remote teaching and support programmes. Most have done an outstanding job and are working round the clock to ensure a quality continuation of their pupils’ education. Furthermore, many schools remain open for the children of key workers.
Most schools reduced fees in the summer
In the summer term of 2020, the majority of independent schools offered parents a fee reduction or remission ranging from 10 to 30 per cent. A wealthy minority (typically the oldest, most well-endowed boys’ public schools) may have been more able to afford this gesture but other schools are significantly less well-resourced and took a financial hit in order to do this. In addition, most have frozen fees for part or all of this academic year while incurring costs that are subject to inflation.
Parents may, perhaps, expect the same or similar reductions this time around, but it is now important to contemplate the importance of schools being able to retain all their staff, effectively maintain their facilities, and be able to return as thriving communities when the current situation is over.
Schools are no doubt bracing themselves for a flurry of enquiries from parents asking what more they should expect in terms of reductions. Of course, individual financial circumstances and resources of any school must be taken into account, but The Good Schools Guide believes that all schools should be forging partnerships with their parent body to strike a fair balance between supporting pupils and securing their own futures. We’re aware that some schools are offering discounted fees for this term but not all will be able to afford to offer more than a rebate of money saved due to reduced outgoings. Schools should take parents into their confidence and show how they have arrived at their fees and how those monies are allocated. In return parents, if they can afford to do so, should acknowledge the efforts being made by schools to continue delivering quality provision and settle their bill promptly.
In short, to help the school look after families with clear difficulties, parents who can pay the fees on time should do so. For their part, proprietors should forego any profits and well-paid SLT staff should forego any salary increase.
What could schools do to help with fees?
- Fees for services that are clearly not being provided such as boarding and transport to school should not be charged.
- Schools should do their best to help parents who find themselves struggling to pay fees – from delayed or staged payments to forgiveness.
- Schools should commit to economising on as many outgoings as possible over the course of this half term – and beyond if necessary (lunches, transport to matches, grounds maintenance are just a few possible areas), relying on the government’s furlough scheme for some staff, as appropriate. Well endowed schools should offer parents a rebate only once costs have been accounted for and should be open with parents about how their costs are allocated
- In acknowledgement of the fact that everyone is going to feel financial pain during the current situation and beyond, schools should take a hard look at what they are spending money on. Those who haven’t already could start by freezing fees for the remainder of the academic year. Surely now is the time to end, or even reverse, what has been a relentless above-inflation rise of independent school fees over the last two decades.
- Schools should suspend the usual formal full term's notice for parents who are no longer able to meet the fees and need to withdraw their child.
- Communication is key. Senior school staff with decision making power should be readily available to respond to and reassure parents who are concerned about meeting fee payments.
And what should parents do?
All parents are entitled to ask their schools whether financial support of some kind is possible. Schools will understand – particularly in respect of parents whose children attend on bursary provision as well as in the case of parents whose income has been severely impacted by the pandemic – that some may simply be unable to pay the agreed fees for the coming term. Our advice is to contact your school, in as collaborative and cooperative a frame of mind as possible, to see what help can be offered. Resist the urge to air your views and drum up negativity on the class WhatsApp group. No school wants to lose pupils and they will want to help as much as they can, while still being able to maintain the standards you expect.
When parents choose a school for their child, they invest in that school not only financially but in many other tangible and intangible ways. It is in everyone’s interests that the quality of education and overall provision offered is maintained to the highest degree possible in the current very challenging situation. It is to be hoped that the positive spirit of community and togetherness that has sprung up around the country in response to the pandemic can extend to negotiations and agreements between schools and parents.
Do you want help from The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants?
Our expert education consultants can provide your family with one-to-one help on all of the issues raised in this article and many more. We regularly help parents understand the particulars of UK independent schools and assist them in mapping out potential educational pathways for their children. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the Education Consultants homepage or to speak directly with one of the team email [email protected] or call 0203 286 6824