What are the hidden costs of private school?

If you’ve started to consider a private education for your child, you’ve probably already looked at the cost of school fees. Depending on the school, the area, and whether your child would board, the price per term for a private school can vary hugely. For many parents, budget will play a role in selecting a school for their child.

But did you know, it’s not just school fees that you should be prepared for? There are extra costs you should account for when planning to pay for a private education. So what are the hidden costs and extras of sending your child to a private school? We’ll talk you through the extra costs of private schooling so you won’t be caught by surprise.

Making an entrance: entrance exams come at a cost

Exam answer card being filled in

Astonishingly, extra costs in private education can begin before a child is even accepted into a school. Firstly, there’s often a non-refundable registration fee that some schools require before parents are even allowed to visit. This is usually in the region of £100-£300 per child.

Next, many private schools require children to pass tests in academic subjects before they are offered a place at the school. The most often used exam is the ‘common entrance’, set by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB).

Parents are expected to pay for their child to sit the entrance exam for private school, and costs will vary depending on whether your child takes their exam in the UK or overseas, and whether they take the 11+ or 13+.

Fortunately, if your child is applying to more than one school, they need only take this entrance exam once, and the results are shared with other schools using the same exam.

Uniform charges

Once your child has accepted a place at a private school, you’ll need to provide them with a uniform. Of course, you’d likely buy a uniform for your child if they were educated in the state sector, but uniforms at public schools can be more expensive and are another place that hidden costs of private schooling can lurk. As an example, a blazer for a state school could cost as little as £10-20 for a generic supermarket or high-street buy. In contrast, a tailcoat for Eton could cost up to £158.

Some schools stipulate a school waterproof coat as part of their uniform, too, and schools with a pool will usually specify a cut and colour of swimsuit. Items like this all help to bump up the extra costs of a typical private school kit list.

When it comes to sports kits, private schools usually require different options to suit the sporting calendar – hockey or rugby kit in colder months, and cricket, tennis or athletics kit during the summer. Private schools take part in sports competitions with other schools, so children on the sports teams will need both home and away kits to take part in matches.

Be a good sport: sporting hobbies can add to the cost of private school

A girl kicking a football

And speaking of sports, it’s not just the clothing you’ll need to fund. Most private schools expect parents to provide their children with their own tennis racquets, cricket bats and hockey sticks, too. This sort of outlay could get expensive, so keep your eye out for pre-loved sporting goods to keep the hidden costs of independent schooling in check.

High tech

Children will need their own IT equipment, including laptops, headphones, and anything else their chosen private school specifies. Make sure it’s insured against loss or damage, too, or these hidden costs could get considerably bigger.

Going the extra mile: activities outside the school day

Private schools often include some extracurricular activities in the school fees, but for some clubs and societies, parents will be expected to pay extra for their child to take part.

Depending on what your child enjoys doing and how old they are, the costs of extracurricular activities at private schools can vary. For example, St John’s School in Billericay provides a wide range of exciting extras, like ballet or cardio funk dance at £65 per term, languages for £75 per term, or speech and drama for £195 per term.

If your child has lots of interests they’d like to pursue, additional clubs and societies could contribute significantly to the hidden cost of private schooling.

Creature Comforts

Feet in slippers

All the basics are provided for children who board, like bedding and laundry. But to help students settle in, boarding schools suggest that children bring their own duvet cover, cosy slippers and pictures to decorate their room. You might wish to purchase extras so that children have their own things ready for them at home, too.

Above board: lunches and food

Many boarding schools include three meals per day, plus snacks, for the school fees, but in some schools, senior students are allowed to prepare their own breakfast – which would need to be funded by parents. It’s a small thing, but when it comes to hidden costs, it’s worth knowing everything before enrolling your child in a private school.

For day schools, check whether children should take a packed lunch or whether lunches need to be paid for. Some schools use a swipe-card system where parents add a balance to an account so children can pay for food they choose throughout the day.

If your child uses a breakfast club or after-school club, there’s likely to be an extra charge for any food provided during these times.

Stepping out: school trips and residentials

A child's rucksack on the floor by rows of chairs

School trips, excursions and residentials support children’s learning and, even more importantly, are where memories are made for your child. But they do come at an extra cost. The price can vary dramatically depending on the kind of trip and whether international travel is needed. Whether in the state system or in private schools, ski trips and excursions to far-flung locations are likely to cost in the region of £3,000 each, but of course, day trips would be much more reasonable.

Testing times: the cost of exams at private schools

Did you know that some private schools pass the cost of external exams to parents? GCSEs can cost between £39 and £78, depending on the subject, whilst A-levels can range from around £54 to £215. Since pupils tend to take 10-12 GCSEs, and up to 5 A-levels, this can add a substantial hidden cost to school fees.

Good vacations

Most private schools have shorter terms and longer holidays than their state counterparts, so for working families with younger children, a significant hidden cost can come in paying for additional childcare during Christmas, Easter and summer breaks. If you want to read more about this, check out our article on Everything You Need to Know About Private Schools.

Some boarding schools have three to four Exeat weekends during each school year, where pupils leave school to spend a Friday to Sunday with their parents or guardian, or perhaps a friend. Exeat weekends are not compulsory, but if your child prefers to stay at school or you’re unable to spend the weekend with them, there tends to be an extra fee.

Peer pressure

It’s undeniable that many of the children who attend independent schools will come from wealthy families, and so many of their possessions may be from pricey brands. It’s worth considering whether you can fund a lifestyle that lets your child ‘keep up’ with their peers or whether these hidden costs are something you might have to compromise on.

Wising up to the hidden costs of private school

All-in-all, the extra costs of attending private school can add up. We advise parents budgeting for an independent education to allow at least 10% in addition to school fees.

The last thing we want is for families to find themselves under financial strain because of the cost of private school. This is why we’ve published this post, to make it clear what the hidden costs are.

If the costs – and hidden costs – of a private education concern you, we can put together a school fees plan to help you fund your child’s education without neglecting other financial goals, like early retirement or buying a second home. Contact us to find out more.