Paying the fees: a major financial commitment


by David Woodgate, Chief Executive, Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA)
Stacks of pound coins

Paying school fees is a major financial commitment for parents and is not to be undertaken lightly. Apart from a mortgage it is probably the largest expenditure parents can make. The opportunity to spread the payment load is limited as most schools require settlement of the previous term’s fees before allowing a pupil to return for the next term. Consequently, new cars and holidays often have to take a back seat and both parents may need to work to cover even the basic fee. Independent education is therefore, by any standards, a large financial commitment.


Terms and conditions

All schools will send prospective parents a copy of the school’s terms and conditions and ask them to sign an acceptance form agreeing to them. This is in effect a contract between the parent and the school in which certain arrangements are set out – one of which covers the payment of fees. School fees are normally due for payment on the first day of term. However, most schools offer the opportunity for staged payments of the annual fees over 10 or 12 months either arranged by the school or through a third party broker. 

How a family pays the fees will, no doubt, have been the subject of a considerable amount of planning and preparation. In addition to family funds, there are two key sources of finance:

Government and charities

The Government plays its part in two ways. First, for Service families, there is an already well-established system whereby the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) may be claimed for qualifying individuals. Second, there are schools founded by the Military – the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, The Duke of York’s Royal Military School, Dover (now an Academy) and the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook. Alternatively, there are some state boarding schools where fees (or part of them) are covered by the Government, including Cranbrook, Gordon’s and Sexey’s.

There are a number of charities that will help families in need. Some are specific to certain professions and others are more widely available. Full details of financial help provided can be found via the Educational Trusts Forum’ (ETF) at the Independent Schools Council (ISC). For more information go to

The school

When a parent applies to send a child to an independent school, there will usually be a selection procedure. When filling in the application form, there is a page asking whether parents are seeking assistance in paying the fees. After the selection process is complete, the school may offer the family a place for their child with a discount on the normal fees. This can be: 

Once a child is established and settled in a school, if the family circumstances change and the expected income is no longer there, it is important for the family to talk with the school. Many schools have hardship funds and these may be able to help a family keep a child at the school at least to the end of an academic year and perhaps to the end of a stage in education.

Key advice

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