C-19 lock down and School Fees

Good Schools Guide have produced this useful guide to paying school fees during the current situation.

Communication and transparency are absolutely key when asking parents to pay for a service they will not be getting. Full financial disclosure and schools eliminating all unnecessary costs, whilst remaining solvent to operate again, seems right the balance. Furloughing is the perfect scheme to prevent disaster and allows for considerable cost-cutting measures.

This article from Good Schools Guide sets out many of the key issues.


We are all affected by the current situation whether or not we (or anyone close to us) actually contract Covid-19. There will be few whose income is not impacted by it and many will suffer a severe drop in financial resources with the uncertainty ahead, perhaps for many months, even years.

Independent schools are in the same position, with many extremely worried about the impact of parents being forced to withdraw their children.

Most schools are providing remote teaching and support programmes for their pupils, and from what we have seen so far they are doing the very best job that they are able to. Schools we speak to are working round the clock – and we are told that many will continue to do so for the duration of the Easter holidays – to ensure a quality continuation of their pupils’ education. Furthermore, most schools are remaining open to accommodate and teach the children of the key workers on whom we all depend, and need to provide catering facilities, in some cases transportation, for these and the staff on site supervising them.

Schools realise that families may reasonably expect some reduction or remission in the fees for the summer term and some have already made such offers to parents. Some schools can afford this, but others are less well-resourced; parents should expect schools to want to retain their staff and be able to return as a thriving community when the current situation is over. We think that schools should take parents into their confidence and show how they have arrived at their decisions on fee reductions.

We are now starting to see what various schools are offering parents in terms of discounts, although many are yet to show their hand. We think that, apart from the odd flash of arrogance, most schools are behaving fairly. The importance of considering the financial position and resources of your child’s school is crucial context, but in summary The Good Schools Guide believes that all schools should be considering the following steps as a bare minimum in order to strike a fair balance between supporting their parent body and securing their own futures:

  • Schools should commit to saving on as many outgoings as possible over the summer term (lunches, transport to matches, grounds maintenance are just a few possible areas), relying on the government’s furlough scheme for employed staff, and to offering parents a refund at the end of the academic year in line with these savings. The school should be open with parents as to how the figure for the reduction has been arrived at.
  • Fees for services that are clearly not being provided – eg boarding and transport to school – should not be charged.
  • Schools should do their best to help parents who need help to pay the summer term’s fees, from delayed/staged payments to forgiveness.
  • We are all in this together: to help the school look after parents in difficulties, parents who can pay the fees on time should do so, proprietors should forego their profits, and well-paid heads should take a summer salary cut.
  • In acknowledgement of the fact that everyone is going to feel financial pain during the current situation and beyond, schools should take a hard look at what they are spending money on. They should start by freezing fees for the next academic year. The relentless above-inflation rise of independent school fees that we have seen over the last two decades should be ended, and to some extent reversed.
  • For parents who are no longer able to meet the fees on an ongoing basis and need to withdraw their children from school should a bursary not be available to them, schools should suspend the usual formal full term’s notice of withdrawal.
  • Communication is key. Senior school staff with decision making power should be readily available to respond to and reassure parents who are concerned about meeting fee payments.

All parents are entitled to ask their schools what arrangements are planned and whether financial support of some kind is possible. Schools will understand – particularly in respect of parents whose children attend on bursary provision as well as in the case of parents whose income has been severely impacted by the pandemic – that some may simply be unable to pay the agreed fees for the coming term. Our advice is to contact your school, in as collaborative and cooperative a frame of mind as possible, to see what help can be offered. Resist the urge to air your views and drum up negativity on the class WhatsApp group. No school will want to lose pupils and none are profiteering from this situation; they will want to help as much as they can, while still being able to maintain the standards you expect.

In the end, when parents choose a school to which they entrust their child, they invest in that school in a very tangible way. It is in everyone’s interests that the quality of education and overall provision offered by that school is maintained to the highest degree possible in the current very challenging situation. It is to be hoped that the community spirit so heart-warming around the country can also infuse the negotiations and agreements schools and parents can forge together. 

Our responses to what parents are most frequently telling The Good Schools Guide are given below.

My income has been severely damaged by the current situation and I can’t meet the fees for the summer term, what should I do?

Contact the bursar at your child’s school without delay to find out whether they are able to offer delayed or staged payment terms or a reduction in fees. If your financial situation has been damaged so severely that you don’t think you can meet the fees long-term, speak to the school regarding the possibility of a means-tested bursary.

I’m angry that my child’s school is charging full fees for the summer term and am thinking of withholding payment.

If you are able to find the money to pay the fees we would strongly recommend against withholding them as a protest. Check your contract with the school – you will be legally obliged to meet the payment. Not only will failure to pay create animosity between you and the school – a relationship which should always be kept as positive as possible for the benefit of your child’s education – but it could lead (if a lot of other families do the same) to the school being forced to close its doors for good leaving you, and countless other families, to make alternative arrangements at short notice. If you are genuinely unable to meet the fees, contact the school bursar as recommended above.

I don’t feel that the ‘virtual’ education being offered by my child’s school is worth the fees I am being asked to pay.

The current situation was totally unforeseen for schools as much as for parents. We would advise parents to breathe deeply and bear with the situation. Most schools we have spoken with say they plan to fine tune their home school offering over the Easter holidays and are committed to offering the very best provision they can when the summer term starts. Unfortunately, there are some things that will fall to parents (eg providing lunches, pastoral and emotional support and provision of physical activity); we would recommend taking the approach that – at this point in time – you will support the school and your child by doing what you can to plug any gaps that simply cannot be filled remotely. If, once the summer term is underway, you still feel that the school is falling short of its commitments, contact your child’s class teacher or head of year (whoever would usually be responsible for their academic progress) to voice your concerns, escalating your views to the senior leadership team if your feedback isn’t taken on board.

We can’t afford school fees any longer and our school isn’t able to offer a bursary.

In this most unfortunate situation, we would expect schools to allow the children in question to complete the academic year with their friends before having to leave. You should let the school know of the situation as soon as possible with a view to discussing reduced or staged payments for the summer term. If there is absolutely no possibility that your child will be able to stay on, contact your local education authority who will help you find a place in a nearby state-maintained school. The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants also offer reasonably priced consultancy packages to guide parents through changes such as this and can be contacted at advice@goodschoolsguide.co.uk.

I have heard of other schools offering much larger discounts than ours. Is that fair?

It depends. Some schools are rich, or have cash to hand, others may be in very different circumstances. Some may find it easy to cut outgoings, others hard. You should expect schools to be open with you as to how they have arrived at the discount that they offer.

Homeschooling Your Children

The initial glee of being able to sleep in an extra hour or two will soon wear thin. We face the prospect of having to find productive and fun ways of spending the whole day together en famille in the same building – learning, earning and, in most cases, just getting along.

Waving a child goodbye at the school gate before heading off to a meeting. Racing home from a day’s work in time to hear about a child’s completely different day at school, then read a bedtime story. Long-awaited school holiday activities outdoors among friends and cousins.

With the realisation of yet another three word, Borisonian mantra – ‘Stay at home’ – these socially orientated, physical separators between parent and child seem to already belong to a bygone, golden age. Parenting has suddenly changed. Children and parents are compelled to stay at home together. All day long.

Life will of course return to normal. But right now parents across the world are being forced to pause their over-scheduled and digitalised lives and focus on their children. The initial glee of being able to sleep in an extra hour or two will soon wear thin. We face the prospect of having to find productive and fun ways of spending the whole day together en famille in the same building – learning, earning and, in most cases, just getting along.

The positives of self-isolating with your children

Bonas MacFarlane has over 25 years of experience of educating children at home. We want to emphasise some of the positives of the family time that many of us might need to spend in isolation. Although social media may amplify the fears of the pandemic, it also gives us a platform to show we are there for each other, to check in with friends and family and to inspire us with things to do with this unexpected time at home.

Bonas MacFarlane was established in the early 1990s by young tutors who saw the benefits of educating children in their family homes. Not all of these children were immediately willing participants. Their parents often sympathised. The father of one of our first tutees recalled his own reaction to being introduced to a governess who had come to stay for the holidays. With his brother, he charmingly invited the shy spinster to go boating at dusk. They rowed alongside her to the middle of a loch, whereupon they removed the oars from her boat and raced for home. But, like most children, they came around to appreciating the transformative effects of individually tailored tuition at home: they sailed through Common Entrance exams to Eton.

Educating a child at home is actually quite straightforward, provided two basic principles are followed:

1. Routine

We are biologically wired to follow strict routines. We all know that securing a routine for a baby results in less interrupted nights. Daily routine is just as important for older children (and their parents). Follow the mantra that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit and three days to break one. Schools run on stricter timetables than a Swiss mountain railway. Why? Because being governed by what one of the great Victorian Harrow songs called ‘the voice of the bell’ works. This is how schools control hundreds of children in a confined space. Don’t try and beat them at their own game; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Of course, there is greater flexibility to be had in a routine designed for a few children (or even a single child) than a school of hundreds. If one activity works really well, schedule more time for it; if a child performs better a little later in the day, respect that. One eight-year old we schooled at home in the Dordogne for six months in 1997 enjoyed reading. So she spent the first ninety minutes of her school day just reading classical children’s literature. This gave her ideas for the creative writing that was her second activity of the day (she is now enjoying a successful career in advertising). At school, reading is often consigned to the evening, when a child is tired.

But unless there is a daily schedule agreed – in writing – the night before or at breakfast, very little will be achieved.

2. Outcomes, aims and objectives

With a solid routine in place, the family can make clear and achievable outcomes, aims and objectives for their children’s learning. Understanding the expectations for each child will provide the right content and achievable goals. (An excellent resource for understanding your child’s educational expectations is through The School Run which outlines the Key Stages and the development of children in these stages).

The outline:

  1. Know the desired outcome
  2. Be clear on the aims required to achieve the outcome
  3. Prepare objectives (activities) to practice the aims

Example:

  1. Desired Outcome?: Year 6 KS2 (SATs exam)

Reading and Writing exams focus on themes, character development, events, understanding literary elements such as ‘between the lines’ meanings, punctuation, and range of vocabulary.

  1. Aims?: Develop vocabulary, use correct punctuation, understand elements of reading, literary techniques.
  2. Objectives?: Reading and writing exercises, SATs past paper practice, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing comprehension. Spelling quizzes, vocabulary quizzes. Creating and writing stories. Reading passages and answering questions about the passage.

The objectives must be scheduled; each task has to have a time limit. If a child manages to complete the objective well within the time limit, there can be a reward of extra free time or favourite activity.

Every activity should have an aim, objective and outcome. And make sure the child knows the time limit and the reason for the exercise. An example: ‘In the next five minutes we are going to make a plan for an essay and write the three lead sentences for the three main arguments. Why? Because cracking the first sentence is the hardest part of writing.


Four other suggestions:

  1. The best way of knowing you know something is to be able to teach it to someone else:
    One of the most strategic ways a child can learn is to teach back to their teacher what they are learning. This technique can be used in any subject on any learning objective. The parent effectively becomes a classmate. And remember – just like adults, children do not like being told what to do and how to think all day. Example: ‘pretend I have never heard about Henry VIII. Tell me all you can about him in exactly two minutes’.
  2. Keep a diary
    This pandemic is probably going to become an episode in history. Perhaps the future for our children will hold many more pandemics. But this is the first time the whole digitalised world has been faced by exactly the same threat. Children can understand that, but writing about the positive effects should be encouraged. Parents have time to talk to children about the uncertainties they faced growing up; self-isolating grandparents can talk online about their childhoods. This is a great time for children to record their oral family history.
  3. Celebrate the removal of peer groups
    School communities are artificial in the sense that children spend fourteen years in the same rooms as other children who are within exactly a year of their age. Not a single adult workplace replicates or even reflects this; in all of our working lives, we collaborate with colleagues of varying ages – they might even be several decades younger or older than us.
    And this is the great joy of schooling children at home. They start to see adults and younger children as contemporaries and engage with them as equals. So we encourage parents to use this time to its maximum benefit by learning together as a family. And to repeat: children do not take well to being instructed all day so engage in an activity where they might have the edge, such as learning a completely new modern language or craft.
  4. Have realistic expectations
    There is a limit to how much structured learning young children will accept. Remember that working individually with a child tends to be highly concentrated compared to the group activity and wide-angle focus of the classroom. Two hours per day of solid concentration on learning new material is an impressive outcome for an adult let alone a child. And the younger the child, the more these two hours need to be interspersed with less focused activities – drawing, discussing, reading and being read to, etc. This is what happens at school. Again, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Remember: too many children are over tutored.

Online or Offline?

Bonas MacFarlane invests in researching cutting-edge digital learning platforms. With the onset of school and work closures, the digital realm will be key in developing children’s futures. While online tutoring can be just as effective as in-person learning, securing a balance between digital and non-digital delivery is vital. An essential factor in your child’s day is their ability to simply play and exercise in fresh air. YouTube exercise videos, playing music, or educational physical games are all excellent ways to keep moving to pass time, let energy out or learn through the body. Physical exercise can present educational options for memory games (learning a dance, number counting), strategy games, or simply keeping healthy.

Although COVID-19 has brought a storm of major disruptions and changes in everyday life, we can be thankful for the opportunities to reconnect with family and think creatively about our children’s futures. Children can now learn in ways that are quite different and complementary to their lives at school. They will almost certainly be working at home for much of their careers. This is the time to instil the routines that make working at home preferable to living at work. And when our children look back on this remarkable time of isolation, the fear that is rampant and thick in the air right now will be overruled by positive memories of the resurgence and regeneration of family time.

References:

How your child develops in Key Stage 2? The School Run
The School Run – How to understand education expectations of your child
Gov UK – Key stage 2 tests
SATs Year 6 – The School Run