The spiralling rise of private education fees

With many UK private schools carrying international prestige and attracting wealthy families from around the world – and with fees rising five-fold in the past 29 years – are UK parents being priced out of the market?

Harrow Schoolboys a photograph by Herry Lawford

Harrow Schoolboys. Copyright Herry Lawford.

Relocate Magazine January 2020
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Fees at UK independent day schools are now more than five times their average in 1990, according to research outlined in new report from UK investment house Killik & Co.The increase of 403 per cent over the last two decades has outpaced the rise in professional wages, putting private education out of the reach of many UK parents who might in the past have been able to afford it.Premium private schools in the UK are increasingly appealing to the international market. The proportion of international students at UK private schools has been rising as a British private education carries international prestige.Meanwhile, parents who are relocating overseas are increasingly finding that international schools outside the UK, particularly those in Asia, offer comparable or better facilities at a lower price, says Jitin Sethi, Partner, Global Education Practice, L.E.K. Consulting.
Read more:

International Schools – what global mobility experts need to know, with Jitin Sethi

UK families are being priced out of the market

In 1989 there were 12,000 pupils in British private schools whose permanent homes were abroad, equivalent to 2.6 per cent of the total private school population.This had risen to 29,000 (5.4 per cent) in 2019, with a further 26,000 (4.9 per cent) of students who were born overseas but had parents living in the UK, the Killik & Co report says.“The additional demand for school places driven by these pupils may well have helped support the above-inflation cost of fees,” says the report’s author, Svenja Keller Partner, Head of Wealth Planning Killik & Co. “This may concern middle-class parents who would like to educate their children privately since the pool of very wealthy international parents is considerable. Over time if the sector continues to be attractive internationally, then overseas pupils may gradually price out more and more UK families.”
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The newly published report, Private Education Index: Evaluating the Future of your Children’s Education, reveals that the average cost of a year at an independent day school has increased from £14,562 in 2018 to £15,000 in 2019.

Adding up the cost of education

While politicians debate the rights and wrongs of private schools, parents who are relocating to the UK, with or without an education package, will have to budget for educational extras. These additional costs, such as uniform, music lessons and sports kit, add up to another £3,282 per pupil per year.The Killik & Co report found that over an education of 14 years, the total sum for attending a day school, with educational extras, has risen from £283,600 for a child starting in 2015 to a projected £325,600 for a child starting in 2019.By contrast, a day-school education cost £212,000 for two children starting in 1990 and 1992. Meanwhile, two children boarding from the age of 13 would have cost an average of £288,800 in total.

Alternative routes to private education

Fees have outpaced the rise in UK professional wages. As a response to crisis in private education fees, Killik & Co advises parents to seek alternative routes, such as sending their children to a state primary school before moving into a private secondary school, saving up to £117,900, or investing to build up a fund for university fees. Investing the equivalent value of 14 years of school fees into financial assets with a realistic 4 per cent annual rate of return would produce a portfolio worth £360,000 by the end of sixth form, according to Killik &Co’s calculations. This is a return of £88,700 over the level of any fees invested, enough to cover the cost of university.“By increasing the number of international students, the potential pool of high-income parents is increased far beyond those based solely in the UK,” said Svenja Keller. “This may concern middle class parents who would like to educate their children privately since the pool of very wealthy international parents is considerable.”

Looking overseas

Premium schools in developing countries tended to offer the IGCSE and IB, and offer as good or better, purpose-built facilities says Mr Sethi. “One advantage of using the international schools system outside the UK and US is that parents may find educational facilities that are comparable with the best schools at home, but at a lower price,” he told Relocate’s Festival of Global People earlier this year.The Guide to Education & Schools in the UK is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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