The Fee Fighters

2023 has seen the highest rise in school fees since 2009. Catherine Stoker and Dianna Surman of Independent Education Consultants explain what could be behind this leap, how it could affect you, and how to keep private education within your reach

Estimates put this year’s fee increases at 6-8 per cent, compared with an average of 3.1 per cent in the past five years. Why?
Dianna: Many schools didn’t put fees up during the pandemic because they wanted to keep hold of pupils. So the current increases are to catch up with inflation and higher energy bills, as well as to pre-empt the VAT a Labour government would impose on school fees. That’s why we’re seeing average increases of 6-8 per cent.

Which types of school have the biggest increases, and are they always the best?
Catherine: The big-name day schools can afford to risk a big hike in fees because they’re so oversubscribed. Day schools that have boarders may also put fees up more, but you need to weigh up what’s included in that cost (breakfast and after-school clubs, for example). Clubs and facilities aren’t what make a school great, though. It’s inspiring leaders and teachers, passionate parents and a real partnership with the community.

How are London parents responding to these increases?Dianna: Where I live in West London, everyone is considering moving out of the Capital to afford the fees. Those who stay will move their children into the state sector, which will put it under huge pressure.
Catherine: A lot of professional working families are worrying that they won’t to be able to give their child the same opportunities they had. Many are asking us how to get scholarships and bursaries. I also know people who’ve chosen to rent – or even just have one child – so they can afford independent schools.

Is private education still worth it?
I think it depends on your child. If they need extra help, or have a particular talent that needs nurturing, they’ll benefit from smaller classes and more focused attention. But if they’re bright and confident, with a really strong support structure at home, they’ll thrive anywhere. So, yes, independent schools absolutely have a place. But there are some fantastic state and free schools too, as well as partnerships between private and state schools which see them share resources and facilities.
Catherine: It’s also worth thinking about what education is for today. A dad said to me recently that by the time his son leaves school he’ll want to be a psychologist for robots. How can you make sure your child learns critical thinking skills, as well as coding? Realistically, state schools can’t afford to invest as much in tech as independent ones.

Want to beat the increases? Catherine and Dianna have five tips:

  1. Weigh up your options. You might have an affordable mortgage now and an expensive independent school five minutes away. Or there might be an outstanding state school a few miles away, which would mean moving to a pricier area. It’s why people move out of London and the south east and commute. The money you save on a mortgage could go in a school fees pot.
  2. Cheat the system. You’ll pay half fees at most if your child goes to a choir school, for example. It’s a big commitment for you and your child, but it’s also a great experience. Or you could teach in your child’s school to get a big discount!
  3. If you can’t go private all the way, invest your money when it matters most – pre-prep and sixth form. And don’t start an education stage unless you can afford to see it through to the end. Moving your child midway is very unsettling.
  4. Look beyond the obvious. Everyone knows the big London day schools, but there’s a huge number of smaller niche schools that are more affordable and offer a fantastic education.
  5. Get advice as early as possible – even before your child is born. A financial adviser can help you look at your budget, start a scheme and make sure it grows. And an educational consultant can help you make the right choice for your circumstances, your finances and, most importantly, your child.