Some believe it is the ultimate gift you can give your child, but paying for education is a costly commitment reports Caron Kemp
With private education the least affordable it has been in recent memory, even professional families risk being priced out.
That is according to a recent study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which claims that private school fees have more than trebled since 1990; outstripping wage rises for more than a decade.
It suggests that the average cost of a private day school place is £13,194 – 342 per cent higher than 25 years ago. That means that over an education of 14 years from primary school to A-levels, today’s parent will fork out some £185,000 per child.
It’s a frightening prospect for one mum, whose daughter will start at Bushey’s Immanuel College in September. Having failed to secure a place at a Jewish state secondary school, the family, who wish to remain anonymous, had not envisaged having to pay for their daughter’s education.
“Private schooling was never on the agenda purely for financial reasons,” she admits.
“That said we are delighted that our daughter has a place at such an outstanding school and we have committed ourselves to doing what it takes to ensure she can remain there.”
Yet the sacrifice is palpable.
“We did look at selling our house and downsizing in order to pay for it,” she explains.“As it happens I have instead agreed to go back into full-time employment having previously worked part-time locally, in order to bridge the financial gap.
“For me that is frightening. Not only have I been out of the formal workplace for a number of years but there is a huge pressure on my shoulders to find a job and to make it pay in the long-term.”
And with fees currently standing at approximately £5,500 per term, the burden of responsibility is enormous
“I realise that on top of the fees there’s uniforms, annual school trips and the coach to pay for, plus I am sure there will be other hidden charges,” she continues.“And that’s before the realisation that the fees could increase and we are tied in regardless.”
Naturally, such a commitment has a knock-on effect with expectation.
“I do not want my daughter to feel burdened by the situation,” she concludes. “But this is a huge lifestyle change and so I expect her to work hard and have a good attitude towards her school life.”
The pressure on children to perform is understandable though, when the figures are so eye watering. At Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, on top of the £18,000 annual fees, parents can be expected to pay up to £2,580 for extras including a seat on the coach, music lessons and entrance to the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
And they are not alone. Parents of girls at North London Collegiate School in Stanmore won’t get much change for £18,000 per annum in the senior school and if a child wants to learn an instrument at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School they can be expected to pay £645 each year. That is of course after the purchase of uniforms. One of those at Haberdashers’ will set you back at least £345.
For Mill Hill mum Louisa Walters, the sacrifice of putting her two children, Daniel, 21, and Georgia, 18, through the private education system from primary through to secondary school was different.
“When it was clear that we were going to go down the private route come what may, my husband – who was after all the main breadwinner – said that if we were going to do this then we wouldn’t be able to have a third child,” she explains.
“There was no way we could educate three children privately; two was enough of a struggle. This was a very difficult decision. We both really wanted to have a third, but ultimately didn’t want to sacrifice the education of our two existing children.”
But having been privately educated herself, she made it a priority to send her offspring to Radlett Prep and then on to Haberdashers’ and North London Collegiate.
“We never had a big sum of money put away, we just paid the bills at the start of the term and then breathed a big sigh of relief that we didn’t have to find the money again for another few months,” she admits.
“What we have foregone is paying off the mortgage, and putting aside money for the future. But we decided to focus on the here and now; ‘here’ we had two children and ‘now’ they needed educating. Everything else could wait.”
Yet financial planner Sarah Drakard, who co-owns Evolution for Women, advises some caution when committing to fee-paying schooling.
“We advise clients to work out the total cost of schooling (including essentials and extras) and look at their financial plan long term,” she suggests. “Borrowing money or increasing a mortgage debt to pay for fees has a much higher cost long term. Other options including savings, investment funds and increasingly the silver bank – grandparents. If grandparents are leaving an inheritance tax liability this can be an efficient way for them to help their grandchildren while mitigating the IHT longer term.
“Overall, it’s a big purchase over an entire school career and should be considered in the same was as buying a house or big asset when looking at your personal finances.”
Clearly though, the reward has been something money cannot buy for Louisa.
“Both Habs and North London held a graduation ceremony at the end of Year 13,” she recalls.
“At both my husband and I sat there feeling proud, privileged and grateful twe had managed to put our children through the private education system. It isn’t just about the grades. Private school puts a ‘gloss’ on a person, like a topcoat.”