The thinking behind deciding to send your child to private school is a deeply complex and emotional one on many levels with financial considerations somewhere near the top of the list. Having put three daughters through private school (with one still there), I don’t regret it for one moment, however there are times when ‘I do the maths’ and think about the sacrifices we’ve had to make in order for the girls to have the education we wanted for them. It hasn’t always been easy but somehow we’ve done it.
I am acutely conscious therefore of the many sacrifices parents make in order to make private school accessible for their child/ren. For many it’s the most expensive investment we are likely to make after buying a house, and it’s possibly the most emotionally charged one given we want to do everything we can to give our children the best possible education.
Sadly the cost of private education has never been so expensive. And it is likely to get more expensive.
Parents living in London who entered their child at reception at age five in 2003, can expect to have paid as much as £180,000 when they leave this year aged 18, according to research by Lloyds Bank Private Banking. Across the UK, the average cost of educating a child at a private day school has increased to almost £160,000, with annual fees having nearly doubled over the 13-year period. Lloyds’ figures show that parents have seen bills soar from £7,308 a year in 2003 to £13,341 in 2016. Looking at the past five years, day school fees have risen by 21 per cent — compared with a 13 per cent rise in the retail prices index over the same period and a 5 per cent boost to full-time gross annual earnings.
How much more can I expect to pay for boarding? Almost three times as much. Fees for a child boarding from the age of 13, having earlier attended a private day school, could reach as much as £468,000, up from £435,000 the previous year. Do fees vary by region? London is unsurprisingly the most expensive part of the country for a private education, at £179,145 for the 13-year day school total, followed by the south-east at £175,000, according to the Lloyds research. Fees are significantly lower in the north, at £126,600.
If we go back twenty five years average fees have increased by 553%, boarding fees are up 464%. But consumer prices in that time have risen by only 201% and average wages are up by 217%. School fees have been rising so much faster than inflation – faster, even, than house prices. The hikes – against near-zero inflation and average annual pay rises of less than two per cent since the global financial crisis – have prompted protests from parents who may have been to private school themselves.
I think we get the picture.
But what of the future? What do private schools need to be doing if ‘we’ are to be accessible and affordable to not just the super rich and the oligarchs? Reducing the quality of education is 100% non-negotiable; ‘we’ are a premium product. But should we be demanding such a premium price which increases without fail year on year? I’m not convinced we should if we want to continue to be accessible and affordable.