Susan Hamlyn

Follow the money

Many 100 per cent bursaries are available, but often they are left to go begging

In 2007, many of today’s young parents were either graduates or school-leavers testing their skills in their first jobs. They were saving for a mortgage or just enjoying the freedom of being young with few responsibilities. Back then, UK average annual earnings were around £23,765. Now, they are £27,271 — a rise of just under 15 per cent. The average house price in 2007 was £181,383. Today, it’s £215,847 — a rise of more than 19 per cent. Tough on today’s young families, you may think. But the rise in house prices relative to income is nothing compared with the increase in fees for independent schools.

As with incomes and house prices, there are vast differences between north and south, rural and urban. But looking at individual schools, we see that, for example, Port Regis, a Dorset prep school, charged £18,465 for a boarding place in 2007 whereas this year the fee is £24,300 — a rise of over 31 per cent. Gateways Preparatory School in West Yorkshire charged £7,965 for a day place in 2007; today it’s £12,720 — a rise of 60 per cent. In 2007, Westminster School charged £15,963 for a day place. Today you’d pay £26,130 — a rise of nearly 64 per cent. A day place at Edinburgh’s Fettes College cost £14,859 in 2007 whereas now it’s £25,545 — that’s 72 per cent more.

In 2007, families with a modestly above-average income could just about afford independent school fees for two children. Not now. ‘But,’ you may say, ‘I know several ordinary families with children at independent schools. How do they do it?’ The answer is ‘fee assistance’ — scholarships and, crucially, bursaries.

According to the Independent Schools Council, a third of today’s independent school pupils receive some kind of financial assistance: £900 million was disbursed in 2016-17, the largest chunk of which (£362 million) went towards means-tested bursaries.

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