*This is a collaborative post*
It’s a polarising debate so often had among parents… is the cost of private school education really worthwhile, when state school is free? It tends to be a completely generalised discussion, and people often forget that the answer is very personal, and specific to people in different situations, and living in different areas. Reports in terms of performance have widely indicated the superiority of results of private schools of late. However, just last year it was reported that England’s top 500 state schools outperformed their top 500 private school counterparts.
It’s conflicting evidence to say the least, and it’s set against the recent backdrop of the recent Budget announcement that Government plan to turn all state schools into academies by 2020 – one that has caused a fair degree of uproar. So what does this mean for our state schools then?
The academy reform
The fundamental change here is that instead of being under the control of the local authority, state schools will receive their funding directly from the central government. Although the principal or head of the school will remain in charge of the day-to-day running of the school, they will be overseen by academy trusts, who will offer advice and support. The advantage is that the school will have its own admissions process, and be more liberated if it wishes to make any changes.
In fact, more than half of secondary schools in the UK are already academies (and about 15% of primary schools). Where academies have come in for criticism though has been with regard to a lack of improvement in results. Other critics have also noted that is akin to privatisation, and believe that academies lack oversight in terms of finances and accountability.
So does this push us towards private schools?
There are so many unknowns with the pros and cons of academies that it’s difficult to say. The benefits of private schools are well known, and increasingly intensified by the current lack of availability for admissions in state schools. Smaller classes, better facilities, and – generally speaking – the higher quality of teachers means if you can afford private school education for your child(ren), it’s an attractive option.
But therein lies the great obstacle… cost. Average day school fees are estimated to be in excess of £13,000 a year, while for boarders this climbs to around £30,000. It’s an eye-watering amount of money, but also one that many parents feel justified in forking out for.
Financing a private education
One option that has been used by some families to finance private school education is an equity drawdown scheme, whereby you take out a loan secured against your home (like a mortgage) and borrow a predetermined amount each year to pay the fees. Others even opt to take out a personal loan, although this tends to be for topping up the bank account to cover other costs associated with education such as tuition or extra-curricular activities.
But it is obviously more preferable to be able to cover the costs without outside help. The best advice for this is the most simple – start saving early. Squirrel away as much as you can each month from the day your child is born (and even before!), and also look into different financing schemes. Some allow you to make an upfront payment before your child’s first year of school, thus lightening the financial burden for years to come.
Making your decision
But then again, if all of this leaves you feeling as though it is out of your reach, or that the costs aren’t justified, that’s okay. It’s always well worth looking into Grammar schools too. Or, if you’re set on state schools, make sure to do all the little things right. Position yourself in a good catchment area, and stay there a while to give your child the best chance of gaining admission. It is unlikely that this golden rule will change as the trend towards ‘academisation’ increases.
No doubt that it is one of the more important decisions to make in the lives of many parents, and with an education system that is already stretched, it will be interesting to see how the new rules affect the status quo. All we can do is keep our fingers on the pulse, and do the little things right in the meantime, so that when the time comes we are well placed to make an informed decision.