Private education fees rise fivefold in twenty years

The number of wealthy international students at UK private schools jumps, potentially pricing out the children of UK professional middle-class parents. Plus, the UK Labour Party endorses plans to abolish private schools. Marianne Curphey reports.

Harrow Schoolboys a photograph by Herry Lawford

Harrow Schoolboys. Copyright Herry Lawford. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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% 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


In 1989 there were 12,000 pupils in British private schools whose permanent homes were abroad, equivalent to 2.6% of the total private school population.This had risen to 29,000 (5.4%) in 2019, with a further 26,000 (4.9%) 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.

Threat to private schooling in the UK

The report comes as Labour delegates at the party’s conference in September endorsed plans to abolish the charitable status of private schools and distribute their assets to the public sector. Delegates want this to be a manifesto commitment.The motion added universities would be limited to admitting the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population, currently 7%. Labour would also abolish Ofsted, the school inspection body.The Independent Schools Council, which represents about 1,000 private schools in England including Eton, reacted to the proposals by saying the move would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.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.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% 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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