What Price Is a Good Education?
Education is certainly the greatest gift a child could ever have, but – as all parents know – every present comes with a price tag. Good Schools Guide Advice Consultant Nicky Adams counts the cost of school – both state and independent.
Much like lunches, there is no such thing as a free education, even in the state sector. Of course, parents who choose an independent school for their son or daughter face an even heftier bill. But in both cases, forewarned is forearmed and before applying to a school or college it is always worth researching the costs to make sure that they are affordable. If not, financial help can often be made available.
Although state education itself is free in the UK, there are nearly always additional or optional costs for parents. In fact, a recent survey by Aviva found that parents spend at least £1,600 every year sending a child to state school, which adds up to an eye-watering £22,596 for a whole school career (4-18), then more on top if your child continues into higher or further education. By far the largest cost for working parents of young children is after-school care, but all parents find that other little extras all add up:
Lunches: Unless your family income entitles your child to free school meals, then school lunches for all but infants are either charged for or brought in a box from home. Many schools are now cashless environments, so payment can often be made online upfront for convenience, but the bill is likely to add up to around £400 a year.
Uniform: State schools have made uniform shopping so much easier and cheaper by generally choosing styles and colours stocked by department stores and supermarkets. There may be the odd school-specific item – tie, blazer badge or bag, for example – that comes from a nominated supplier or can be bought from the school itself. The average annual cost of uniform, according to Aviva, is £108, with shoes an extra £78 and sports kit £59. Most schools run excellent second-hand uniform shops. Funding may also be available for families on a low income to help with uniform costs – usually the school can provide information.
Equipment: To help with homework, parents often end up purchasing a few textbooks (spending an average £63) and one in 10 buy their child a tablet. If your son or daughter is sporty or musical, prepare for more outlay – while many schools are happy to lend in the first instance, if your child is serious about his or her chosen pursuit, then a cricket bat or trombone may well appear on the Christmas list.
Trips: This can vary, but trips are optional in most schools and colleges. However, children often feel they are compulsory if they are to avoid missing out – educationally and socially. Aviva calculates that parents of school-age children need to put aside an average of £120 a year per child for school trips.
Transport: Few children these days walk or cycle to school unless they live right on the doorstep, so inevitably there are travel costs, which are compounded if children from the same family attend different schools. If getting to the nearest state school or college incurs an unavoidable cost, then the Local Authority will generally foot the bill, but otherwise parents pay for petrol or a bus pass, costing on average £369 a year.
Parents considering a fee-paying school of course need to pay particular attention to the costs, bearing in mind that independent education is usually a long-term investment. Not only do school fees often increase as the child progresses through the year groups, but nearly all schools review fees on an annual basis too. Fees are usually payable termly in advance but many schools now offer a ‘pay monthly’ scheme and there are often options for parents to pay the fees for a whole year – or multiple years – upfront.
It’s well worth checking carefully just which of the additional costs paid by the parents of state school children are absorbed into independent school fees and which are not. Some – notably uniform and equipment – are likely to be substantially dearer and there can be other unexpected extras too, including:
Deposit: This is payable on accepting the school’s firm of a place and returnable at the end of the child’s time at the school and can be as much as £2,000 in some areas.
Insurance for your child: Including personal effects, medical, dental.
Less popular courses: A charge can be made when only a small number of students want to study a more obscure subject or language.
Special Educational Needs: One-to-one classroom assistance, support or tutoring often attract a charge.
Lunch and snacks: If not included in the fees, they can really add to the annual cost of school.
Keeping up with the Joneses: Important to children, they may feel they need the latest clothing or gadget to stay in with the in-crowd.
Nicky Adams is a consultant for the Good Schools Guide. For more information, go to www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk