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The true cost of the school run

For some parents the length of the school run seems to be a badge of honour. For others...

3 years ago

For some parents the length of the school run seems to be a badge of honour. For others it is an inevitable part of parenting. But is it? And at what cost?

Let’s leave aside the environmental impact, easily imaginable just from seeing the free roads on the first day of the school holidays, which is no doubt considerable. For the purposes of this article we will assume a thirty minute drive in each direction (according to a 2019 government survey the national average was a 19 minute walk in each direction). The drive to and from school can be put to good use, talking with your child. It is the empty legs that are concerning. They isolate a parent in a car for one hour a day, five days a week for about thirty five weeks of the school year: 175 hours per year. Add in time getting ready and waiting. Call it two hundred hours. And remember that many parents are driving for at least 50% more than that.

So you now have two hundred hours you can spend doing something really productive, such as:

1/ Doing academic work with your child, taking on the role of good tutor, at a rate of £50 an hour (and that is an average – many tutors cost double). That’s £10,000 of one to one value. Post tax. Gross it up: £20,000 pre tax. Ah, but it’s impossible to tutor one’s own child I hear you say. Fine – there is plenty of truth in that. So use the time to tutor someone else’s child (see point 3 below).

2/ Engaging in constructive play or reading. This is intensely valuable time. And irreplaceable. Notionally charge yourself out at £30 an hour that you might otherwise pay for a course provider.

3/ Spend that saved time on your own work, earning money. Let’s be very modest and assume you make £30 an hour in take home pay. That’s still £6,000 per year. Gift that into an investment fund for your child. Invested very conservatively, that will give the child a pension of at least £50,000 for fifteen years. Or it will pay for university. Or a hefty deposit on a flat. Or spend it on yourself! If your hourly time is more valuable, then the sums become even more significant. 

Oh yes, we forgot about mileage. Let’s assume the school is only five miles away. That’s £3,500 miles a year. At a low average mileage of £0.40 per hour. That’s £1400. Post tax. You know the drill now. Let’s call it £3,000 pre tax… Even if you do the school run for half of the fourteen years a child is at school, that becomes a significant figure in itself. 

4/ Give the time to yourself, to do what you want. Do not be a slave to school. Too many parents make too many sacrifices in the search for the ‘best’ school. For most children, learning difficulties or extenuating circumstances aside, school is what they make of it. 

I would encourage you to give the question some serious thought. Is it really worthwhile your child attending a marginally cheaper or supposedly better school that is quite a bit further away? Or keeping a child at home to save money when in fact there is a strong financial argument in favour of weekly or flexi-boarding, if that is on offer. You perhaps think this is an ancillary argument and not central to the question of where your child goes to school, but if you take the time to do the maths you may find yourself better equipped to make that decision.

About the author: Charles Bonas is a tutor and education entrepreneur. He is the founder of Bonas MacFarlane Education.

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