Price of private school fees skyrockets

The Education Guardian Saturday 28 July 2007

By Anthea Lipsett

Private school fees have soared by 41% since 2002 – at more than twice the rate of inflation, effectively pricing more parents out of privately educating their children, research showed today.

Figures showing the rising cost of private tuition came as leftwing thinktank the Fabian Society, chaired by the secretary of state for children, schools and families Ed Balls, suggested the government introduce a tax on private school fees to halt the exodus from state education.

In 2007, the average annual cost of sending a child to private day school was £9,627, compared with £6,820 in 2002, according to research by Britain’s largest mortgage lender Halifax Financial Services.

Fees in the south-east outstrip other regions. At an average of £10,908 a year, they are nearly £3,000 a year higher than in the north, the least expensive region at £7,944 a year.

Halifax’s research revealed a 6% rise in private school fees in the last year alone – 50% more than the increase in retail prices of 4%. In real terms, private school fees have risen by 20% since 2002 whereas average annual earnings have increased by 4% in real terms over the same period.

This above-inflation rise has put private education out of reach for more parents in a wider range of occupations.

Key public sector workers can no longer afford private education for their children. For teachers, average school fees for day pupils represent 28% of the average salary and 36% for nurses.

Only 13 occupations can now afford fees, compared with 23 in 2002, according to Halifax. Lecturers, scientists, engineers, journalists, writers, trading standards officers and computer programmers would now need help paying the fees they could afford in 2002.

This is in stark contrast to company directors who earn an average of £149,000 a year, for whome school fees would represent 6% of their gross salary.

Over the last five years, the number of bursaries on offer has increased and nearly a third of pupils at private schools (31%) receive support worth over £300m in total.

Boarding pupils face even stiffer fees. At £20,970, they are double the costs for day pupils. Fees are on average 36% more than the £15,364 annual cost in 2002. Boarding fees represent almost 70% of average earnings, compared with 62% in 2002.

However the number of private school pupils has increased by 6% between 2001-02 and 2006-07 from 631,800 to 669,300. During the same period the number of pupils attending state schools fell by 2% from 9,484,200 to 9,289,300. One in 15 attend private school.

Martin Ellis, Halifax’s chief economist, said: “Private school fees have risen by significantly more than average earnings over the past five years, making it increasingly difficult for many parents to send their children to private schools.

“With school fees continuing to rise by more than inflation and private education proving increasingly popular, parents need to plan their finances as early as possible if they want to afford private schooling for their children.”

The Fabian Society called for the government to consider “radical proposals” including “taxing school fees”.

In the society’s summer review, the editorial director, Tom Hampson, said this would make the “journey out of the state system more difficult”. The money could be earmarked for an opportunity fund for schools in more deprived areas or better university access, he suggested.

“The private schools themselves might propose a far better bursaries scheme or more philanthropic activities,” he added.

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