About 50 per cent of residential boarders at Gordon’s are from Service families. As Bursar at Gordon’s, I have seen some trends for parents claiming the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) and from these I make three key observations.
The ‘window’ for submitting each term’s CEA claim is short and parents need to be ready with the following term’s invoice. Schools should be able and willing to prepare the termly invoices for CEA parents in advance of the main bulk and send it to you electronically or have it accessible through a finance portal, which is helpful, as it is available wherever you are. There are of course valid reasons for missing the ‘window’ such as change of posting, but if this happens be sure to communicate this delay to the school’s Bursar or Finance Office and advise them of the revised payment date. It is important for parents – Forces and civilian – to keep Bursars advised.
When parents are selecting a boarding school they take numerous factors into consideration from proximity to family to help with emergencies and exeats, to the sports played and quality of the accommodation. Cost is obviously a factor, even for parents able to claim CEA, and there should be careful consideration of ‘value of money’. Some schools, but by no means all, offer a discount to Forces families. You will also need to contact the school’s Finance Office to ask what you can expect to pay in ‘extras’ each term as these can mount up for a full boarder, especially when participating in weekend activities. At Gordon’s I have always aimed to be as inclusive as possible in terms of not charging extra for costs that would be applicable to every boarder but some schools may charge for every extra.
First, when CEA is refused for whatever reason, parents must engage with their unit Admin Office as any case put forward will have input from their unit specialists if it is to have any chance of success. Parents will be able to access the Services support networks and organisations such as the Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) (DCYP-CEAS-Enquiries@mod.gov.uk) while the unit is able to provide the military perspective such as future postings and welfare issues.
Second, I have an increasing number of conversations with parents who are considering or have already decided to leave military service before they originally planned to and who will therefore lose the CEA. My main message on this is to think ahead and to communicate with the school’s Bursar. You may plan to settle close to your child’s school and assume they will just be able to transfer to a day place – check that this is feasible. For example, at Gordon’s it is not an automatic transfer from boarding to day status. Before assuming that the school will provide a (means-tested) bursary to help your child complete a stage of education, check on sources of possible financial assistance. It is important not to assume that your application for financial assistance will be approved as you are most likely to be earning again; you may be claiming your pension and you will have a lump sum.
The school’s Bursar will want to try to help maintain stability for a Service pupil to complete a key stage of education, particularly GCSEs and A levels, but may not have the school resources to do so. You will need to keep this in mind when considering a career change and have a Plan B in the event that there has to be a change of school.
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