The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - MONEY - Marc Sid­well

Soar­ing school fees can be a good thing, but par­ents de­serve cheaper op­tions

Good news for at least some hard-pressed par­ents: one pri­vate school in the South West has cut its fees by 10pc to avoid pric­ing out mid­dle-class fam­i­lies. But that in it­self can’t solve the prob­lem of bal­loon­ing prices.

Last year, the av­er­age day school fee was £4,473 a term, up 3.6pc on 2016, ac­cord­ing to the In­de­pen­dent Schools Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents the vast ma­jor­ity of pri­vate schools. Its fig­ures also show that over the past decade, pri­vate school fees have risen by more than 50pc.

And board­ing school fees have risen faster. Mill­field in Som­er­set, which is the school slash­ing 10pc from its fees, cur­rently charges more than £12,500 a term for board­ers.

These high prices are in one sense an ex­cel­lent thing: they are proof of the ex­cep­tional value placed on a British ed­u­ca­tion around the world. But that global rep­u­ta­tion has also helped to cre­ate mas­sive de­mand, in­clud­ing from wealthy over­seas fam­i­lies, help­ing to send prices into the strato­sphere.

Many par­ents who would pre­fer a pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren sim­ply can­not af­ford the above­in­fla­tion price in­creases of re­cent years. And when they fall back on tax­payer-funded state schools, they will of­ten still end up feel­ing du­ty­bound to pay a crush­ing house price premium to be near the school of their choice.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The re­search of Pro­fes­sor James Too­ley of New­cas­tle Uni­ver­sity threw new light on how in the de­vel­op­ing world cut-price pri­vate schools were pro­vid­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion even to some of the very poor­est chil­dren in the world. That led him to help de­velop prac­ti­cal projects over­seas, in­clud­ing a chain of low-cost pri­vate schools in Ghana and schools in In­dia and Liberia.

Now Prof Too­ley is bring­ing that insight to the UK, with the open­ing this Septem­ber of the In­de­pen­dent Gram­mar School: Durham, which charges just £900 a term.

Planned as the first in a chain, Prof Too­ley’s school fo­cuses on spend­ing money where it makes a dif­fer­ence to stu­dent achieve­ment. Oth­er­wise it pur­sues a no-frills ap­proach, re­sist­ing the “race to the top” over fa­cil­i­ties that is an­other fac­tor driv­ing up costs at many pri­vate schools.

This back-to-ba­sics ap­proach is the kind of in­no­va­tion the school sec­tor is cry­ing out for. There is no rea­son that ef­fec­tive, no-frills pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion can’t thrive along­side the run­away costs of the most sought-

Pro­fes­sor James Too­ley in front of his new, no-frills pri­vate school in Clay­path, Durham

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