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More bang for your buck: a private education for £1000 per term

A private education occupies a disproportionately large line in the family budget – £14,000 per year on average...

3 years ago

A private education occupies a disproportionately large line in the family budget – £14,000 per year on average in 2020 and 50% more than a decade ago. Where a child goes to school can impact every other financially motivated decision that parents make (and plenty that are not). Families regularly up sticks and leave a city that they love and have called home for decades in the name of a private education. Sacrifices are made which can have a huge impact on quality of life in order to ensure that the sacrosanct ‘privately educated’ status remain unthreatened.

Yet upon moving a child from a private to a state school, parents often report an almost dizzying sense of freedom, having markedly fewer rows and feeling less anxious about money (which alone seem reason enough to think twice about the burden of a private education).

So, what if parents could seek out a supplement-based solution that would afford them greater financial freedom? For 20% of the cost – say £1000 per term – could one reasonably expect to obtain 80% of the value of a private education?

State v. Private

The question of whether a state or private establishment is the ‘better’ school is not the premise of this article. Imagine for now that there is a state school that you like, that your child likes and that you think makes sense on many levels. But you are concerned about what your child will miss out on. The luxury of sport, theatre and music all under one (‘state of the art’) roof that independent schools provide is almost never available in the state sector. Yet these are precisely the things that can be found in abundance outside the school gates. Along with a diversity of network and experience that it would be hard to find in the independent sector.

Supplementing a state education

Tutoring

Private tuition is the first obvious step to supplementing a state education. The UK private tutoring industry is one the most mature anywhere in the world and there are many reputable tutoring agencies nationwide who will take on the job of sourcing the right tutor for your child. Expect to pay between £65 and £100 per hour. Some extra cost savings might include getting one or two classmates of your child to join the tuition to reduce the overall cost per parent. There are also a great many independent tutors who are harder to source but often much cheaper. £15 per hour is now the low end of the norm as the industry becomes increasingly competitive. William Petty of tutoring specialist Bonas MacFarlane advises “little and often. Do not wait until there are problems in specific areas; try to be proactive and preventive.”

Co-curricular activities

People often highlight the abundance of co-curricular options at independent schools versus their state equivalents. However, it is worth bearing in mind that even at private schools many of these activities come at an extra cost. There is an ever-growing number of companies and initiatives catering for theatre, singing, chess or music outside of school hours. Your school should have lots of information on local, trusted suppliers. Do plenty of research and seek peer reviews or industry accolades. Whilst talking to other parents is inevitable, just remember that what works for one child may not work for your own. And try not to be swayed by trends. For example, just because everyone is talking about coding doesn’t mean your child should be doing it nor that they will enjoy it.

Media

Despite an understandable desire to keep children away from screens, the media offering is not all bad. Whether we are talking podcasts, publications, Ted Talks, Instagram even, there is something of value in almost every type as long as it is appropriate for a child’s age. The late, great, dylsexic AA Gill once said in a lecture on schools that if you want a first-class liberal education for your children, ‘keep them at home and make them listen to BBC Radio 4 all day’. Given the amazing array of topics discussed seriously on media outlets this is also a good way for your children to discover new areas of interests.

Sports

We have long been aware that physical exercise is as important as mental. Children get a fair dose of this at any school in the country by law. But state schools will have far less time and funds for sports than their independent counterparts. It is often the case that there is a plethora of places to swim, play football or cricket on your doorstep. As ever, research will reap benefits. Always start by asking your school. If your child is very talented then there might well be an opportunity for subsidised sporting programmes that are heavily discounted or even fully funded. Conversely, if your child is not a gifted sportsperson do not let them avoid it entirely. Quite apart from the exercise, the experience is valuable to help with team learning and communications

Culture

When it comes to theatre, art galleries, concerts, lectures, museums or trips to historical sites, Britain has a formidable offering of exciting and educational opportunities for families and children. And many of them come at no direct cost. Engaging with the above will also act as a great way for your children to discover new areas of interest and allow you to harness these into worthwhile interests as the years unfold. The choices that you make can both enhance their curricular learning and take them beyond the usual classroom fare. 

Assistance required

If the private sector has cast an irrevocable spell, scholarships and bursaries can have a night and day effect on affordability. Just over 175,000 independent school students currently benefit from some form of reduction and 6,000 pupils a year (increasing 5% year on year) benefit from completely free places to private schools in the UK. Parents are often unaware of the assistance that may be available; there is far more support than one would imagine from independent schools for lower income families, mainly via bursaries which tend to be means tested. Schools do not advertise this support very well and there is much school gate rumourmongering that puts parents off enquiring. If it seems appropriate to your situation, you should call the schools that you are interested in and discuss assistance with them openly and directly.

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