School fees rise by 63% as middle classes are squeezed

School fees are up by 'significantly more' than the level of inflation (Getty)
School fees are up by 'significantly more' than the level of inflation (Getty)
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The cost of privately educating children in Scotland has soared by 63 per cent in the past ten years, with the average family expected to fork out almost £10,000 per child per year, a new report shows.

Independent schools in Scotland now charge an average of £9,816, up from £6,309 a decade ago, an increase “significantly” above the inflation rate.

Experts have warned that it is increasingly difficult for parents in many occupations to afford a private education for their children.

Across the UK, fees have increased by an average of 68 per cent between 2002 and 2012, a rate of growth that is more than 1.8 times faster than the increase in the Retail Price Index (37 per cent) over the same period, according to Lloyds TSB Private Banking, which produced the
report.

However, the charity which represents more than 70 independent schools in Scotland said the institutions are “sensitive” to the financial pressures on parents, saying that independent schools strove to keep their costs manageable for
parents.

Suren Thiru, an economist at Lloyds, said: “Private school fees have increased by significantly more than inflation over the past 10 years, making it increasingly difficult for the average worker in many
occupations to afford a private school education for their offspring.

“All parents want is to ensure their child receives the best education to help them benefit from a secure future. It is, therefore, becoming
increasingly vital that parents plan their finances as early as possible if they want private schooling for their children.”

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) said establishments north of the Border have “worked hard to keep fee increases as low as possible to ease the burden on parents and to widen access.”

John Edward, director of the SCIS, said: “Average fees at Scotland’s independent schools have risen by around 3.5 per cent in recent years, and schools have worked hard to keep rises as low as possible, being sensitive to the pressures on parents.

“No school makes a profit. Instead, any surplus from fee income is reinvested for the benefit for current and future pupils.

“Additionally, schools provide fee assistance for bursary pupils, the cost of which must be met from fee income or fundraising, so it is a testament to the careful financial management of our schools that fees have not increased further.”

Rod Grant, headmaster at Clifton Hall, an independent primary and secondary in Edinburgh, said: “You always have to be mindful that parents have got to be able to pay for any increase. If the fees increase greatly, you stand to lose pupils from the school, so any rise is very carefully thought through.

“It tends to be linked to whatever cost increases a school faces. I’ve worked in the state and independent sector, and independent schools have a higher proportion of staff.

“We don’t want to make those cuts. I have a school of 315 pupils with 60 staff, but that’s part of the ethos and the culture of the independent sector.”

Mr Grant added: “In my particular school’s case, we’ve suffered from massive utilities increases. We’re not a profit-making organisation, and our income has to cover our cost.”

Other schools have sought to explain to parents their reasons for the fee increases, pointing out that independent schools are affected by cost inflation in certain areas.

Strathallan School in Perth, states on its website that increases are “kept to a minimum consistent with the school’s cost base, the recognition that we wish to attract and retain the highest quality staff and the need to provide a cash surplus to allow continued development of the school’s facilities.”

Since the start of the economic downturn in 2007, the average annual fee has increased by 19 per cent throughout the UK. This is closely in line with the Retail Price Index, which rose by 18 per cent in the same period.

Researchers said there are several relatively well-paid occupations – such as pharmacists, architects, IT professionals, engineers and scientists – where someone on the average earnings for that job can no longer send their child to private school without assistance from other sources.

Private school fees are deemed to be affordable for an occupation if they represent 25 per cent or less of gross average annual earnings for someone in that occupation.

Parents earning the average salary in occupations such as production managers, accountants, senior police officers and pilots face the smallest financial burden in sending their child to a fee paying school with the average annual fee representing around a fifth (19 per cent) of their annual average gross earnings.

Regionally, the biggest rises have been in Greater London and the south west, with fees increasing in both regions by 79 per cent during the decade.

The next biggest increases were in East Anglia (74 per cent), East Midlands (69 per cent) and the south east (68 per cent). The lowest average increases were in the est Midlands (53 per cent), and the north of England (60 per cent), which includes the north east and the north west.