Money & Daddy is a weekly column about parental finances, published on Wednesday mornings. Got a topic or problem you want me to tackle? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s fair to say that I have a chip on my shoulder about schools. OK, more like a bag of chips, a big bowl of mushy peas and a saveloy.
You see my sister went to a top grammar school, my dad got a full scholarship to a public school… and I went to what Alastair Campbell, then Labour spin doctor, called a “bog standard comprehensive”.
Obviously I like to play up the roughness of my school, when in reality it was fairly average for a London comp – about half of students left with five or more A*-Cs GCSEs. That said, several lads in the year above did get sent down for murder while I was there so, you know.
Why does any of this matter?
Schools have been one of the key battlegrounds of the pandemic: should they close? When should they reopen? What about those kids about to sit exams? Isn’t there a human right to education?
All the debate has got me thinking about where The Boy will go.
He turns two today and we are planning to move house. Suddenly I find my desk covered with catchment area maps, like a very nerdy general. The pandemic has also exposed the gulf between the ability of schools to go the extra mile. Experiences vary enormously.
It’s not a case of all public schools being brilliant and the state sector languishing, but anecdotally the private sector has the resources, small class sizes and technology to deliver remote learning in a way that is, at the moment at least, out of the reach of non-fee paying schools.
So, do you have to be millionaire to send your children to one of Britain’s best schools?
According to the Independent Schools Council, a trade body, the cost of the average day school is just under £15,000 a year, an increase of 4pc on 2019. This continues the long tradition of fees rising far above inflation, putting them out of reach of many middle class families. In London and the South it is far more.
The good news is that more pupils than ever are receiving scholarships and bursaries. About 180,000 pupils – one in three – get some help with fees to the tune of nearly £1bn a year, according to the ISC. Despite all the money sloshing around, schools are rigorous in their means testing, and will dig into family finances to check there aren’t gargantuan second homes hidden somewhere.