The biggest financial hurdles parents face when sending their children to private school

The biggest financial hurdles parents face when sending their children to private school

Investing in a private school represents a significant financial investment for most families. The costs can be large, and since there are private schools that offer places to children as young as 2, parents who decide to take the public school route could be paying their child’s school fees for as many as 16 years.

Some parents aren’t prepared for the financial hurdles that private schools can represent. So what are the challenges? How can you avoid difficulties in paying school fees in the future? In this article, we’ll take a look at the possible pitfalls and show how you can plan to avoid them.

How much do private schools cost?

A young child walking through school gates

Since private schools receive no government funding, they’re financed almost entirely by school fees – although their top-notch facilities do give them other sources of revenue on the side. To tempt parents to pay for a private – rather than state – education, private schools lay on a wealth of learning and enrichment opportunities for pupils. But these ultimately mean that a private education carries a sizeable price tag.

The amount you can expect to pay in private school fees will vary depending on the school you choose, and on whether your child will board or be a day student. At one end of the scale, there are schools offering places for just a few thousand a year, whilst others charge tens of thousands.

There are lots of factors to weigh up when choosing a school, including where in the country your child might be educated. Schools in London and the home counties tend to be more expensive than elsewhere in the UK. The selling points private schools have on offer – like historic grounds, professional-level sports and arts facilities, or staff with PhDs or high levels of industry experience – will influence prices too.

We currently advise parents expecting to send their child to a private school from 4-18 to budget for a cost of around £300,000. However, with inflation on the increase and the cost of living rising sharply, it’s worth bearing in mind that this ballpark figure may change.

Potential problems for parents paying school fees

A hand placing a coin into a piggy bank

Once you’ve enrolled your child into the school of their dreams, it’s tempting to think the hard work is done. But continuing to pay school fees is not always plain sailing.

Let’s look at some of the things that can take parents by surprise when it comes to the cost of schooling.

Up, up and away – school fees rise as children grow

School fees usually rise with your child’s age, so what seems affordable at the outset of education could be eye-watering by the time they’re studying for GCSEs and A-levels. For example, Millfield School charges just over £3,000 for a place in reception, but a student in 6th form would cost more than £9,000.


And remember, it’s not as simple as looking at the fee structure for your chosen school and putting aside the money for the future. Private school fees are well-known for rising faster than inflation, so parents need to be aware that the rising cost of a private school could easily outstrip their own increases in earnings.

Hidden costs

When it comes to the overall cost of a private education, school fees don’t represent the bottom line.

Parents considering a private school for their child need to factor in further expenditure on uniforms, trips, sports equipment, and many other additional costs when they’re trying to figure out their overall outlay. If you don’t, hidden costs can represent an unexpectedly large hurdle in sending your child to a private school.

Changing circumstances

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to predict the future when it comes to your earnings, the value of your investments, and your ability to pay school fees. With a recession looming, parents may see their employers’ or their own business folding, or the value of their investments plummeting.

Or, if you’re relying on a grandparent to foot the bill of a private school, their finances may take a hit in a downturn. And if the grandparent dies, will the funding dry up? Would your child face the disruption of moving from a much-loved school, on top of their grief?

Of course, not all circumstance changes are negative. But they could still affect your ability to pay your child’s school fees. For example, a new working opportunity abroad for a parent may mean that your child becomes a boarder rather than a day student, increasing the cost of their private education considerably.

A change in circumstance can be one of the major reasons that parents struggle to pay school fees. And although it’s almost impossible to predict, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for it and avoid the damaging effects to your child’s education.

Failing to plan; planning to fail

The biggest mistake parents make when it comes to sending their child to a private school is being financially unprepared. It’s too easy to get so caught up in your love of a private school when your child enrols, that you gloss over how you’ll be able to find the funds every year. But as the costs increase year on year through inflation, rising school fees, expensive school trips and exam entry, it can become harder and harder to find the funds.

With the potential to underestimate the costs of private school, parents must plan properly. And a robust financial plan doesn’t just mean a vague intention to cash in some shares or picturing your earnings growing to cover the costs of independent education. Because financial and employment circumstances can change quickly.

A proper plan needs a thorough look at your finances. And that includes your own personal goals, too.

Many parents fail to think about the impact of private school fees on their own financial goals. Dreams like early retirement or a place in the sun are often long-held, but paying for a private education can severely inhibit your ability to achieve them – if you don’t plan carefully.

Why is it important for parents to make a financial plan before they invest in private school?

A child placing a coin into a jar labelled education

The importance of making a financial plan before investing in private school can’t be underestimated.

Without a proper plan in place, you risk having to reduce the quality of your lifestyle to keep up with the annual costs of private education. You may even have to postpone – or worse, abandon – dreams for once-in-a-lifetime travel, early retirement, or a second home in order to keep your child in school.

And if circumstances change dramatically, you may have to face moving your child – through no fault of their own – away from their friends and their dream education into a state school. Moving schools part way through their education could be highly disruptive for your child. It could be disastrous for their learning, and carry enormous emotional trauma.

Take the financial hurdles in your stride

To avoid the disruption and heartache that financial difficulties could bring to your family, building a proper financial plan is essential. Get in touch to find out how you can secure your child’s educational future without sacrificing your own dreams.