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 email@example.com.
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.