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Paying the fees: a major financial commitment

 
– Mike Lower, General Secretary of the Independent Schools’ Bursar Association (ISBA)
 
Paying the school fees ranks second only to paying one’s mortgage and, as such, this is a real attention-grabbing subject. Sending a child off to a fee-paying school means not only a major financial commitment spread over a period of years for a family, but may also involve some serious decisions on lifestyle. For example, suddenly both parents may need to work, and new cars and skiing holidays may not now be affordable. Independent education is, by any standards, a large financial commitment.
Understandably, schools look to parents to pay the fees of their children. Most schools will send prospective parents a copy of the school’s Terms and Conditions and ask them to sign an Acceptance Form agreeing to them. This is in effect a contract between the parent and the school in which certain arrangements are set out – one of which covers the payment of fees. 
 
School fees are normally due for payment on the first day of term. How the family pays them will, no doubt, have been the subject of a considerable amount of planning and preparation. Simplistically, there are three sources of finance open to the family, namely from:
  • the family
  • government and charities
  • the school.
The family
The article entitled ‘Finding the Fees’ that appeared in the March 2009 edition of this Guide, helpfully suggested ways that a family, including the extended family (i.e. grandparents), could plan ahead for this expenditure. 
 
Government and charities
Two further sources of funds could be either the government or else other charities. The government plays its part in two ways. First, for military families, there is an already well-established system whereby the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) may be claimed for qualifying individuals. Second, there are the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, The Duke of York’s Royal Military School, Dover, and Welbeck, the Defence Sixth Form College.
Turning briefly to charities, there are a number that will help families in need and the Royal National Children’s Foundation is a good place to start. 
 
The school
When a parent applies to send a child to an independent school, there will usually be a selection procedure. While filling in the application form, there will also be a page asking whether parents are seeking assistance in paying the fees. After the selection process is complete, the school may offer the family a place for their child with a discount on the normal fees. This can be: 
  • lA scholarship – many schools may offer a scholarship to a particularly talented child for a period of education – perhaps the two-year GCSE or A-level study period. Such scholarships could involve a percentage reduction in the fees, but this is unlikely to exceed 20% of the full fees and is often less. 
  • lA bursary – it is possible that a school would like to offer a place to the child and, noting the previously completed request for financial assistance, may then ask the parents to fill in a means-testing form and, based on this, offer a percentage reduction in the fees. In particularly deserving cases, this could be as much as a 100% reduction. 
Once a child is established and settled in a school, if the family circumstances change and the expected income is no longer there, it is important for the family to talk with the school. Many schools have hardship funds and these may be able to help a family keep a child at the school at least to the end of an academic year and perhaps to the end of a stage in education. 
 
Key advice
  • Start planning early – it is a major financial commitment.
  • Talk with the school about what exactly the financial commitment will be, including ‘extras’. It is also worth discovering whether staged payment schemes are available and how to access both scholarship and bursary funding.
  • Be aware that each school has different funds available to assist parents and that if one school cannot help, another school might be able to. However, don’t forget that the most important thing is to find the right school for your child rather than the one offering the best discount.
  • Don’t be shy – schools need pupils, and Heads and Bursars will always be happy to talk with prospective parents, not only about the academic and pastoral aspects of their school but the financial ones as well.  

Mike Lower was educated at Dauntsey’s School and the Royal Military College of Science. He also attended the Australian command and staff course in 1986. After 26 years in R EME, he left the Army early to pursue a second career as the Bursar of Eastbourne College. Following a move to Christ’s Hospital School in 2007 he assumed the appointment of General Secretary ISBA in January 2011. He is married to Sonia, and has three adult children. His interests are tennis, squash and ‘fair weather’ golf.  

 
 
 
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