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Coronavirus and Independent School Fees
We are now nearly three weeks into the Government’s lockdown measures due to the Coronavirus and we have all had to adjust our lives significantly. The education landscape has changed dramatically in that time with school closures across the country and remote learning becoming the norm. Some parents whose children attend independent schools are now facing the unpalatable prospect of paying thousands of pounds for their children not to attend school. So is there anything that the parents of pupils in independent schools can do in these circumstances, or are schools within their rights to demand parents pay the full fees regardless of the pandemic?
Undoubtedly, both parents and independent schools are in an incredibly difficult position. From the parents’ point of view, parents are in the unenviable position of having to continue paying fees despite their children being at home and having a form of remote education from the independent school. Parents inevitably have to assist with the home education of their children, and this may be on top of a myriad of other life pressures, such as health problems or job and income uncertainty. For some parents, paying independent school fees at this tremendously difficult time, where many have had their income severely impacted, is simply unaffordable.
For the independent schools, they are facing the financial squeeze just like any other business. Many independent schools are extremely worried about the impact of parents being forced to withdraw their children, trying to keep staff on the payroll and whether they will actually be able to survive the Coronavirus crisis. This is whilst still working to ensure that the quality of education and overall provision offered is maintained. Mr Neil Roskilly, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, which represents about 540 UK private schools, said that the "vast majority" of schools do not have "huge reserves'' and he expects more schools will close as a result of the Coronavirus.
Independent schools therefore need to give very careful consideration to their next move. Schools will need to strike the right balance between their contractual position and ultimately keeping the school afloat, with ensuring that parents are kept onside during the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is our understanding that independent schools are providing education to pupils via a remote service or support programmes, though many parents consider that the optimum level of service that they pay for is not being provided. Therefore, are parents entitled to a reduction on their fees, some form a fee remission or credit on future term fees?
Whether the parents are entitled or able to get any money back or a discount on their independent school fees depends on the individual institution. The stance differs from school to school and some independent schools are better resourced than others and are able to offer a greater discount to parents. Eton College for example, where the termly fees can be up to £42,501, has reduced its fees by a third for the summer term. Others are seemingly panicking and writing letters to parents demanding that payment be made as a matter of urgency, thus antagonizing an important fee-paying stakeholder.
In the first instance it would be advisable parents speaking to the independent school to see what the school are proposing in terms of fee discounts, fee breaks or any alternative options or possibilities in place to deal with the payment of fees. For example, it is a reasonable expectation that the fees for services that are clearly not being provided during these times should not be charged to parents and therefore discounted, meaning any lunches, transport to school etc.
Any discounts on fees offered by should be fair and reasonable and the independent schools should be open with parents as to how they arrived at the discount figure.
Communication between schools and parents is absolutely key during this period of immense pressure on both sides. If the strong relationship between schools and parents is to be maintained then both parties need to approach matters sensibly and fairly in order to achieve an amicable resolution. If that is not possible for any reason, such as if the relationship between you and the independent school has broken down, or if you are having difficulties in dealing with the independent school, or if the independent school is not acting reasonably or fairly, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our expert team of education lawyers and we will be able to assist you.
Further, if you are not happy with the standard of the education which is being provided by the independent school following the Coronavirus outbreak, then please get in touch with our specialist education law team and we will be able to assist you.
Our specialist team of lawyers at HCB Solicitors are able to assist with this and indeed on a variety of educational matters. The Coronavirus is having an extraordinary impact on all of our lives and we are able to assist parents in trying to find their way through the fog of uncertainty.
If you would like to contact us to discuss your options and your current position regarding independent schools and the possibility of independent school fee reductions or discounts, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our specialist team of expert solicitors. We can be contacted on 0333 202 7175 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.