Parents with children at private schools are underestimating the extra costs charged by schools, which can add as much as 25 per cent to basic fees.
The latest edition of The Good Schools Guide warns there is a “common misconception” that extras add only 8 to 10 per cent to the bill, when “the reality is that it can be much more”.
The findings come at a time when private school fees are rising relentlessly, to the point where top boarding schools demand more than £20,000 ($39,700) a year in basic charges.
School bursars say this reflects a rise in teachers’ pay to keep up with the state sector, higher pension costs and what some call an “arms race” to provide better facilities than rivals.
Research for the guide’s 2008 edition has unearthed some imaginative examples, including extra fees for “unusual subjects”, such as exotic languages taught in small classes.
The guide warns that some schools are guilty of “inertia selling” – items such as insurance and even charitable contributions charged through obscure footnotes that say: “Unless you notify the school and deduct the amounts mentioned, it will automatically be charged to you.”
The guide’s authors advise parents to “scrutinise your bill carefully”.
The long list of other extras includes lunches, uniform, books, trips, capital levies to pay for new buildings and charges for special tutoring. The authors add that items for which state schools also charge, such as music lessons or transport, “are often charged at a much higher rate than parents would expect to pay in the state sector”.
They advise parents that “many schools have a flourishing second-hand shop” for school uniforms, which can cost almost £1,000 if bought new. In some cases there is no alternative but to pay up, the guide notes. Many schools charge for lunches, for example, whether or not parents make sandwiches for their children.
To cap it all, there is the additional pressure of “keeping up with the Joneses”, the guide says. “In a money or status-conscious school, all sorts of possessions or expenditure may be required for a child to remain one of the in-crowd. As one London prep school parent says, ‘I reckon it costs at least £1,000 a year for going to and making birthday parties for all the children in the class – what with the presents, party bags etc’.”
Danny Cooper, chairman of the Independent Schools' Bursars Association, said: “‘Extras’ at independent schools provide value for money.”
The Good Schools Guide’s 2008 edition is the 13th in 22 years.