July 10, 2013 11:31 am

Lesson one: education isn’t free

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The cost of schooling is a subject close to my heart
Jonathan Eley

Normally, I assiduously ignore all press releases that start with sentences like: “New research shows that . . .”

In most cases, the “research” is little more than a statistically flimsy straw poll designed to back up the sales message of the company issuing the release. Frequently, it states the blindingly obvious, too – things like “most Britons aren’t prepared for retirement” or that “x per cent of people are more worried about their finances than last year”.

But I will make an exception for something that arrived recently citing the Aviva Family Finance report. This is regular research covering 18,000 people so it is slightly more scientific than your average vox pop.

It also concerns a subject close to my heart: the cost of education. I have two children in state schools and am perpetually (naively?) surprised at the demands for cash. When I was in secondary education – admittedly, rather a long time ago now – the cost of things such as school dinners was heavily subsidised and transport to and from school was free, as were peripatetic music lessons. The school ran one or two trips a year. Most items of uniform could be sourced from Marks and Spencer, only the school tie and blazer had to come from a uniform supplier (and only swots wore blazers anyway).

My elder child attends one of the academies so beloved of Michael Gove. Her dinners cost the same as mine. A pass for Arriva’s crowded and unreliable bus services is £36 a month. Music tuition is over £100 a term. Virtually every item of uniform is embroidered and so must come from a specialist supplier. Pupils are regularly entertained by various visiting drama and music groups, each requiring a “voluntary” contribution.

Homework is almost all computer-based; it is assumed she will have access to a computer, the internet and gallons of printer ink. On top of this, parents are invited to make regular donations to school funds and the school is now organising a whipround for a new building. We’re not talking fivers and tenners here; there is a category of sponsorship for up to £10,000.

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I know from colleagues that this experience is not isolated. And the Aviva survey puts a figure on it: £22,596 in total, or £1,614 a year. Granted, this includes some big-ticket things that one could argue are discretionary, such as out-of-hours clubs (£558 a year) and music lessons (£480). But then again, it doesn’t include things like private tutoring (a huge gravy train – I’m not surprised HMRC had a crackdown on tutors) or the vast costs of moving house so as to be in a different catchment area.

Nor does it include the even more frightening cost of tertiary education . . . but that’s a subject for another day.

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