Schools close – will independent school fees be refunded?

Schools across the country will be closed due to coronavirus on Friday until further notice, the government has announced.

It follows an earlier announcement that schools in Wales and Scotland would close by the end of the week, with schools in England now also following suit.

The Government has asked independent schools and boarding schools to do the same. The closure will also apply to nurseries and sixth form colleges. 

European countries including Spain, France, Italy and Ireland have already enacted full school closures. 

Parents who pay tens of thousands of pounds in fees for private and independent schools will be wondering whether they are entitled to refunds or discounts.

Some parents who are still commuting to work or who need help at home may also struggle to afford to cost of emergency childcare – so what is the advice?

What will it mean for fees?

The guidance from independent schools on fee refunds or discounts is still limited. Whether or not you are entitled to any sort of refund will depend on the individual contracts parents have with the school.

Most schools have contingencies in place and will turn to online lessons, so children can continue to learn from home. 

Julie Robinson of the Independent Schools Council, a trade body, said: “Schools are under immense pressures and this is one of the issues that will be dealt with at school level, depending on their individual policies and contracts with parents. At the moment they are focusing on the welfare of their school communities and ensuring continuation of teaching and learning.

“Independent schools are fortunate to have access to effective online learning resources. There is still the option to continue education remotely using online solutions.

“Our schools continue to monitor the advice and guidance being issued by the relevant authorities very closely,” she said.

What’s the cost of getting childcare at home?

Hiring an emergency childcare provider to cover full-time working hours for 50 hours a week would cost around £240 over five days, according to Becky O’Connor of insurer Royal London. The typical costs of having an after-school childminder is just £72 a week, by comparison. If using tax-free childcare, that £240 a week becomes £192 a week.

She said frontline NHS staff on average wages would suffer most if schools were to close. 

According to Coram Family and Childcare Trust, a charity, the average cost of a childminder for school-age children is £4.80 an hour. Nurses typically earn about £7.30 an hour.

“For working parents, particularly those working in the public sector such as nurses, the cost of emergency childcare may simply be unmanageable. They could end up in a situation where they are going straight into debt through paying for childcare in order to keep their jobs,” Ms O’Connor said.

“This is especially likely if they are trying to shield from contact older family members who might otherwise provide free childcare.

“The Government must urgently consider offering additional support to those parents who need to pay for childcare in order to keep their incomes.”

She urged parents to check if they are eligible for help with childcare costs, whether through universal credit or tax-free childcare. You can check this on the “Childcare Choices” government website.

The Government has confirmed it will continue to pay for all free early years entitlement places at nurseries and preschools, even if they are also forced to close.