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Private school fee increases outstrip inflation and wage growth

Cherry Reynard
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Cherry Reynard

The cost of private education has increased by more than a fifth in the past five years, with Greater London topping the table, according to research by Lloyds Private Banking.

The rise far outstrips the rise in UK earnings over the period, making private school increasingly unaffordable for many parents. The average annual private school fee in 2017 is now equivalent to over a third (39%) of the average UK annual gross full-time earnings of £35,148, up from 30% in 2004.

Over the past five years, the average annual fee for day pupils has increased from £11,448 in 2012 to £13,830 – a rise of 21%. This is nine percentage points higher than the increase in the Retail Price Index (12%) and three and a half times more than the 6% rise in full time gross annual earnings over the same period.

The situation is worse in London, which has seen fees rise 25% since 2012 to £15,560. Over 13 years, the costs have risen by 87%. This leaves parents facing a bill from reception to 18 of £176,301. London is followed by the South East (£171,042) and the South West (£156,120). Parents in the North pay the least at £123,447 – around £53,000 less than in London.

Another issue facing private school parents may be political change. In the Labour party’s last election campaign, they committed to charge VAT on school fees, which would hike prices by 20%.

Around one-third of private school pupils receive some kind of financial assistance. An estimated 168,025 pupils currently receive help totalling £900m, an increase of 4.9% on last year. A significant majority (85%) of total fee assistance is provided directly from the schools themselves.

Pupil numbers remain largely unchanged compared to five years ago. While the number of senior school pupils (11 to 16) has fallen slightly (by 1%), pupils in the other age groups have increased. The number of sixth formers in private education (17 to 19) has grown by 8%, the number of children in private junior schools (4 to 10) has risen by 6% and those in nursery schools (0 to 3) by 4%. While some have suggested that the private school population is increasingly supplemented by international students, research from the Independent Schools Council suggests this is not the case – there are 27,281 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas, 5.2% of the total ISC pupil population in 2017. This has not changed significantly in 30 years.

Sarah Deaves, private banking director at Lloyds Bank, commented: “The choice of whether to send your child to a private school is an important one for many parents, but increasing fees means that even those on higher salaries may struggle to afford it. It’s ever more important for parents, and sometimes grandparents, to plan their finances as early as possible if they want a private school education for their children.”