How to cut the cost of private education

Eton schoolboys rowing boats  © Alamy
Eton spent £6.5m on over a fifth of its students this year

You needn’t be an oligarch or an aristocrat to get your child into a top fee-paying school.

A private education has long been seen as the preserve of the wealthy. But many students at elite schools are there thanks to bursaries and scholarships. According to the Independent Schools Council one in three students at private schools receives financial assistance: either their school fees are reduced, or waived completely. Eton spent £6.5m this year providing financial assistance to more than 20% of its students.

“Growing pressure on independent schools to justify their charitable status has encouraged greater generosity,” says Lindsay Cook in the Financial Times. “At some schools, parents who apply for means-tested support could qualify even if they have a household income of £90,000.”

With almost 6,000 private schoolchildren having their places fully funded by bursaries it certainly pays to check if you meet the criteria. Most schools put details of their financial assistance schemes on their website, but ask too. Some discounts, such as reductions for siblings, may not be publicised but are available.

If you apply for means-tested bursaries, bear in mind that some schools put a cap on your total assets as well as income. Parents with large properties, or rich relatives may be turned down even if their income isn’t that sizeable. “If they feel parents could afford to pay the fees by downsizing their home or asking grandparents for help, they will not be afraid to say so,” says Cook.

Meanwhile, “some private schools offer financial support to cover the cost of books, school trips and so on for families who would otherwise struggle to afford them,” says Marianna Hunt in The Daily Telegraph. “Speak to the school’s admissions office.”

What if you don’t qualify?

If you don’t qualify for financial assistance, there are other ways you can cut your costs. Don’t assume you have to be able to stump up tens of thousands of pounds upfront. Many schools allow you to spread the cost of fees with monthly direct debits. But if you can pay upfront ask if they offer discounts through a fee-in-advance scheme.

Sending a child to a private day school from the ages of 13 to 18 costs an average of £71,445, according to Brewin Dolphin. “By planning early and investing your money, you could hit this target by putting away just £300 a month,” according to Hunt. Save every month from birth until your child is due to start secondary school and you could build up that money if you achieve annual returns of 4%. It is also worth checking if grandparents want to help with school fees. If a grandparent can afford to help with gifts out of their income without it affecting their own lifestyle, it could help them reduce a future inheritance tax bill.