Private Schools – Inflation of Fees

Last month, I wrote about about the affordability of independent schools. I am often asked how much private schools fees have risen in the past few decades. I have been looking for a good account for a while, and just recently came across this one in Dominic Carman’s Heads Up:

Comparing 1971 incomes with today as a multiple, the average income has increased by 13.5x – from £2000 to £27000. And prices over the same period? The cost of a First Class stamp has increased by 20x, a pint of beer by 29x, a loaf of bread by 11x, a pint of milk by 8.5x, a gallon of petrol by 20x, and an average house by 45x (source: ONS). And KES fees? In 1971, Claughton’s education cost £135 a year. Today’s annual fees come in at £10,926 – an increase of 81x – six times the increase in average earnings, and nearly twice the increase in house prices. A comparable surge has occurred throughout the independent sector, although day school fees have grown by more, proportionately, than boarding schools, where multiples of 50x are more typical over the same time period.

Making independent schools affordable

If there is one concern that privately-educated friends of mine with new-born children all share it is that they will not be able to afford the education that they themselves were lucky to receive. I predict that this topic will come to dominate UK boarding schools over the next decades.

Andrew Adonis commented on the inflation in boarding school fees, and its cause, in a speech last year:

‘From the 1980s onward, there was fierce competition for theatres, swimming pools. Independent schools wanted to gold plate all their assets. There was a big reduction in class size… ten or not much more became an article of faith, half the level of the state system. And they pay their teachers more. Put all of that together and you have had private school fee inflation of two, three, four, five times the level of inflation at large.’

Will other schools follow Milton Abbey’s lead and cut their fees?

An interesting response from Scotland in the The Independent:

In her price on independent schools (25 February) Rosie Millard makes the all-too-common mistake of picking the biggest number she can find and crafting a lively narrative around it.

The majority of pupils who attend independent school, at least in Scotland, are day pupils who live locally. Annual fees, for those who do pay full fees, are well below £10,000 – not the £30K figure quoted, which is more than any full boarding experience in Scotland would cost.

On top of that, the charity law in Scotland requires means-tested financial assistance for pupils who wish to access the education of independent schools but require fee assistance. The sum of that assistance is well above £30m annually, with bursaries ranging up to 100 per cent.

All of which is why the landscape, seen from here, is a lot more diverse and welcoming than Rosie Millard sees.

John Edward, Director  Scottish Council of Independent Schools, Edinburgh