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Funding the fees

Millfield School in Somerset, famous for producing top flight cricketers, rugby players and Olympians (eight ‘Old Millfieldians’ represented their country in Rio in 2016), announced last week that it was ‘the first to cut fees by 10 per cent’ to make them more affordable to British families ‘priced out’ of the private school market. Millfield headmaster Gavin Horgan told The Sunday Times it was ‘the right thing to do’ and called on other private schools to follow suit.

The reduction is on senior boarding fees, currently £38,000 a year, so the saving over five years at that rate is £19,000 out of a total of £190,000. That just leaves £171,000 to pay! We’re not sure there are many families for whom a 10 per cent saving would suddenly make a Millfield education affordable.

The news seems to have ruffled a few feathers and heads of other schools took to Twitter with their responses. Gareth Doodes, headmaster of Dover College, called Millfield’s announcement ‘a publicity stunt’, noting that comparative boarding fees at his own school were significantly lower (£31,500).

Millfield once had the reputation of being the most expensive boarding school in the UK, but currently it comes in below Wellington College (£39,750), Harrow (£40,050), Eton (£40,668 per year) and Hurtwood House (£43,428). Eye-watering though they may be, these fees look relatively modest when compared to elite Swiss schools. At Aiglon College in the Swiss Alps a year’s boarding costs between £76,873 and £83,221. Institut Le Rosey occupies a ‘manorial estate’ in Rolle but in January moves to its ‘winter campus’ (ski chalets in Gstaad) for three months. Annual boarding fees of £99,498 per year make it the most expensive school in the world.

While Swiss-style numbers are still a way off, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) UK school fees have risen by an astonishing 50 per cent in the last ten years. There is growing concern that soon only super rich families, many of whom are from abroad, will be able to afford to send their children to British independent schools. Concern about this isn’t confined to boarding schools. Andrew Halls, headmaster of King’s College School in Wimbledon, a day school with fees of £21,600 a year, has also called for fees to be cut.

What brings an independent school education within reach of ‘average’ families are bursaries and Millfield has launched a fundraising drive to treble the number of bursaries it can offer. While this is particularly ambitious, many schools are redoubling efforts to increase their means-tested provision – for the best of reasons but also, perhaps with an eye to the possible threat to their charitable status.

According to the ISC’s annual census around a third of all pupils at independent schools are on reduced fees – but this includes scholarships which are not means tested and are usually relatively modest. The percentage of pupils with means tested bursaries is eight per cent. It reports that compared to 2017, 400 fewer pupils received financial assistance this year, but the value of that assistance has risen from £384 million to £398 million. The ISC believes that this is because schools may be targeting funds to those most in need by awarding larger bursaries to fewer pupils.

For more information on scholarships and bursaries click here


Children’s book of the month

Each month the Good Schools Guide Newsletter chooses a brand-new book that we think children will enjoy.

Mary Poppins

Age: 4+

Children’s laureate Lauren Child never puts a foot wrong in our book. After wowing youngsters of all ages with the award-winning Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort, she’s now turned her attention to a children’s classic – Mary Poppins.

PL Travers wrote Mary Poppins in 1934 and it later became a much-loved movie starring Julie Andrews as the eccentric children’s nanny. More recently there’s been an acclaimed stage musical and Mary Poppins Returns, a film sequel starring Emily Blunt, will be out just before Christmas.

Lauren Child’s illustrated edition of the novel, published this month, is a visual delight. The story is timeless and will appeal as much to today’s children as their parents and grandparents but Child’s illustrations are vivid, fresh and fun. As she explains in the foreword: ‘I chose to set my illustrated edition in the 1930s, echoing the period in which it was first published. Many of the characters’ costumes are based on clothing for that time, although – because we’re never really sure where Mary comes from, or even if she’s of this world – I dressed her in a more Edwardian style but with a contemporary twist.’

Re-reading the stories (the book is divided into seven chapters), we were struck once again by their enduring appeal. Children will love reading about the Banks family, their house in Cherry Tree Lane, Mary Poppins’s magic carpet bag (it looks empty but Mary pulls out a starched white apron, soap, toothbrush, scent and a folding armchair), the Match Man and the Bird Woman at St Paul’s Cathedral who sings ‘feed the birds, tuppence a bag’.


Going up, going down

Going up

Hardworking teachers. Teachers in the UK work longer hours than their peers in most countries around the world, says the 2018 Global Teacher Status Index, which surveyed 35,000 people in 35 countries. On average the UK teachers work almost 51 hours per week. Only teachers in New Zealand, Singapore and Chile work harder.

A sense of adventure. Children should be encouraged to climb trees, explore caves, build rockets and watch the sun rise as part of a character-building ‘bucket list’. That’s the view of education secretary Damian Hinds, who is due to publish a series of extracurricular goals to help primary pupils develop their resilience.

Enterprising entrepreneurs. Congratulations to Milton Abbey School in Dorset, which has announced the four contenders for this year’s innovative entrepreneurship programme. The quartet are developing their businesses with £500 of start-up funding and are being mentored by Entrepreneur in Residence Annoushka Ducas, founder of jewellery companies Links of London and Annoushka.

Going down

Gambling on the increase. A Gambling Commission study says 450,000 children aged 11 to 16 bet regularly – the equivalent of one in seven of this age group.

A good night’s sleep. More than four in ten parents are worried that excessive phone and tablet use is affecting their children’s sleep. Others worry that the gadgets are affecting their children’s social skills and mental health, says research by security firm Norton.

Not prepared. Almost half of young people aged 17 to 23 reckon their education hasn’t prepared them for the world of work, says a new survey by the CBI, Accenture and Hays.


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