A few weeks ago the media (even the popular press) were filled with reports of how middle income families were being priced out of private schools “as fees rocket three times faster than incomes”.
One article reported that day school charges have risen 83% since the early 1990s – even though the average income of families with children has grown only 31% (research from Institute of Fiscal Studies). Whilst such data is indeed interesting and no doubt provocative, it is rarely balanced with the key determining factor for parents – high quality facilities and academic excellence that independent schools provide. The study also found that children were three times more likely to go to private school if their parents attended one, presumably because the parents recognise this ‘quality assurance’ and are willing to pay separately out of their already taxed income.
The IFS report also found that if the proportion of pupils in state schools achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE was to rise by 5%, the proportion of pupils attending private schools would fall by .3%. Meanwhile a £1,300 rise in annual fees reduced the proportion of pupils attending private schools by .3%.
Our own annual benchmarking survey was released in April 2010 and includes a more detailed breakdown of the underlying financials in independent schools. Whilst fees have risen over the years, the reasons are frankly simple economics – costs increase and in order to balance the books, so must the fees. Whilst fees have risen, demand for places, in our experience, remains high.
What is clear is that schools are looking more closely at mitigating any potential pressure of fees with alternative methods of raising funds. It is through other activities such as alumni programmes, hiring out school buildings or, as we have seen in both the UK and United States, a more creative approach such as the licensing of a school’s intellectual property, that generates a surplus which can then be ploughed back into improving facilities and educational excellence.
The moral is that statistics often only tell half a story.
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