Independent school fees treble but social mix is unchanged

CREDIT: This story was first seen in Tes

Findings ‘offer little support’ for the theory that fee subsidies broaden the social mix of private schools, Tes reports.

Independent schools have trebled their fees in real terms since 1980, but their social mix has barely changed because middle-class families are being offered bursaries.

The average boarding fee has risen from £10,000 a year at today’s prices to more than £30,000, according to analysis by the Institute of Education at University College London, reported in The Times.

The cost of educating one child privately is equivalent to half the average family income – up from a fifth in 1980.

Families in the richest 5 per cent of the population must spend a fifth of their income educating one child privately, up from a tenth in 1980.

However, the analysis also found that subsidised bursaries had offset fee rises for professional families, stopping independent schools from being the preserve of the ultra-wealthy.

The analysis found: “There was no change in the proportion of private school parents who belonged to the managerial and professional classes — eight out of every 10 families.”

The researchers concluded that their findings offered “little support either for the idea that fee subsidies were broadening the social mix of private education, or that charging increases were making it more exclusive”.

The data came from annual censuses by the Independent Schools Council. Its chairman, Barnaby Lenon, is quoted as saying: “The proportion of pupils receiving fee assistance has rocketed, as has the amount spent on this.”

Gwen Byron, the new president of the Girls’ School Association, said schools needed to offer a greater number of full bursaries to disadvantaged pupils – but that poorer families could be reluctant to apply for them.

Writing in Tes last year, the incoming HMC chair for 2018-19 Shaun Fenton said that the organisation had made a proposal to ministers: “We would provide 10,000 school places to children from disadvantaged homes at no additional cost to the taxpayer compared to finding those children places in existing state schools.

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“The places would be part-funded by state funding allocated to that child (circa £5,500), with the remainder being made up by the schools themselves through their other fee income or alumni fundraising. That offer is still on the table.”

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