Wednesday, September 10, 2014

UK: 'I went to private school - but I can't afford the same for my children'

Middle-class families are being pushed out of private schools as the fees increase by 20 per cent in five years

“The ‘meet the parents’ evening at a friend’s private school was a wine and cheese night – but with Heston Blumenthal’s cheesemaker. The kids go on holidays on their private yachts, the ski trip is in Whistler in Canada. Do you want to be constantly saying to your child, ‘I’m really sorry darling, you can’t go to the Amazon to study the rainforest because we just can’t afford it’?”

Charlotte*, the publisher of a national magazine, is one of many middle-class mothers with young children who are finding that private school isn’t the same world as where they grew up.

The cost of private schools has grown four times faster than the rise of wages since 2009, leading to a 20 per cent rise in fees over the past five years. Today, the average cost of £12,345 per year is unaffordable even for well-paid parents, and equivalent to 37 per cent of typical earnings.

Together with her husband, Dan, who owns a construction company, Charlotte says the couple earn enough to have every luxury imaginable in the 1980s.

“We could have owned our house outright, we could have a second home and be sending our kids to private school with money to spare,” she says. “But the cost of living these days is so high that the money you earn just about covers your mortgage, your living expenses, bills, clothes for the kids and a holiday a year.”

The couple live in north London with their two children, eight-year-old James and five-year-old Harry, and are so far happy to send their children to the local primary school, which has an Ofsted Outstanding rating. But Charlotte says there aren’t any good secondary options in the area, and cobbling together the funds for a private school would mean a drastic change in lifestyle – if it was possible at all.

“I’m not extravagant but I don’t monitor my weekly shop – I’ll go to Marks & Spencer for the right fruit and can throw a dinner party and not worry about spending £150 entertaining that weekend. But if you’re looking at private school as an option, you won’t have any disposable income again. It’s a complete game changer,” says Charlotte.

The 40-year-old went to private school herself, and says she always expected to become a “grown up” and afford the same lifestyle for her family. “You do feel like you’re failing them when you can’t consider it an option,” she says. “There’s the social stigma as well – you get a jab of guilt that they’re not in the oversized blazers that they would be in if they went to a private school.”

Moving into a catchment area with strong secondary schools is another possibility, but the properties are massively overpriced as a result of parents combing every borough, town and city for schools with small classes and a nurturing environment. And the cost of stamp duty from moving can be the equivalent of several years of school fees.

Many middle class families who can’t afford private fees consider grammar to be the “holy grail”, but Charlotte says the parents at her local primary school secretly compete in an “underground world” of tutoring and ambitious parenting.

The telephone numbers of tutors with a good reputation are treated like “gold dust”, says Charlotte. “You would pay to get the number and then you pay a ridiculous amount of money for them to see your child,” she says. Some parents at Charlotte’s school hire tutors for 5 o’clock in the morning, and only once the pupils have moved onto secondary school will mothers open up their precious address book and reveal the secrets.

One close friend of Charlotte’s accidentally let slip that her son has been attending Kumon maths tuition classes for years – “I’m really friendly with this family – we barbeque together, we go camping, we discuss all sorts of things but tutoring has never once been mentioned,” she says.

And tutors alone may not be enough to help children into the most competitive secondary schools. “To form a well rounded child they need a lot of other strings to their bow to even get through an interview stage at a private school. You pay for lots of extra curricular activities, like the rugby club and music lessons. But nobody talks about it,” says Charlotte.

Parents across the country are trying to find a way to afford the best education for their children without paying the exorbitant cost of fees.

One mother, Hannah*, is hoping that her young sons will be accepted into a grammar secondary school if she pays for a private primary education.

Customer experience consultant Hannah, 37, lives in Rickmansworth with her husband and says that together, the couple bring in a six-figure income. But the family still couldn’t afford the full cost of secondary private school fees for their sons Oscar, four, and two-year-old Jake.

“Oscar was going to go to a local state primary school but, having gone to a private school myself, I got to the point where I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she says. “You want the same for your children as you had and it’s gut-wrenching when you don’t feel like you can do that. My parents never had a huge amount of money but they put us through private school and that’s what I want for Oscar.”

The private primary school fees cost £9,500 a year and are already a challenge. “I’m really frugal. Going out for nice meals and spending money – you can’t do that any more,” says Hannah.

But the jump in fees at secondary school would be completely unaffordable, and so the family are planning to move near Dr Challoner’s grammar school by the time Oscar takes his 11+ exams.

There’s no guarantee, says Hannah, but she’s hoping the advantage of going to a private primary school will set Oscar and Jake up for a good education throughout their school life.

Of course, 93 per cent of British children go to state schools and both Hannah and Charlotte could have a far more relaxed lifestyle if they chose to keep the cost of school fees. But Charlotte tells the truth that many parents won’t admit to themselves – a lot of state schools in Britain simply aren’t as good as the private options.

“If everyone supported the state system then standards would rise, but you don’t want to take the risk with your own child,” she says.

Charlotte says that the parents at her school – who include doctors and respected authors – try to convince themselves that the standards will change as more middle-class families are pushed out of private schooling. “They’re reading with their children in the evenings and putting the extra hours in – does that mean that state schools will improve and they aren’t such a scary option?” she asks.

But while the standards of Britain’s state school system remain uneven, the pedigree of private schools only gets more elite. Gone are the days when doctors and accountants could afford the cost of school fees – today, private school is only for the super-rich.


British primary school pupils as young as four are banned from saying goodbye to parents in their playground 'for health and safety reasons'

Primary school children as young as four were banned from saying goodbye to their parents in the playground for 'health and safety reasons'.

Parents say pupils at Forster Park Primary School in Catford, south London, have been left 'inconsolable' by the 'big change'.

The school sent out letters to parents this week saying they were 'banned' from the entering the playground, from where they were previously allowed to wave off their children.

The letter says parents should say goodbye at the school gate, adding: 'From tomorrow morning (Thursday), we are asking for parents not to enter the playground and to say goodbye to their children at the school gate.

'This is for health and safety reasons. We know that this is a big change but we know that you will work with us to ensure that the start of the school day is even better than it is already.

'Arrangements for collecting your children at the end of the day will remain unchanged, meaning that parents come onto the school playground as you do already.'

A spokesman for Lewisham Council said the new rule was to minimise disruption caused by 'extensive building work' which is currently going on at the 500-pupil school.

But the school said this afternoon that it was now working to provide parents with an alternative place to drop their children off, starting from next week.

One mother, who asked not to be named, said her five-year-old daughter was left 'inconsolable' as she was led off into the school without a 'proper goodbye'.

She said: 'My daughter was quite anxious about going to school and suffers from separation anxiety, so it is important for me to be able to say goodbye to her properly.

'Instead, we were told not to stray past the school gates, so I ended up watching her being led away in tears while I stood watching, in tears myself.'

Michala Cohen said her five-year-old daughter Tymisha was 'really upset' and that other kids were 'hysterical' about not being able to give their mums and dads a kiss and cuddle.

The 23-year-old said: 'My daughter would not leave my side and was really upset. Lots of the other kids were hysterical as well.  'Normally she's a really happy girl and actually skips into school but she wasn't comfortable with this whatsoever.  'The kids are used to their mums taking them in and kissing them goodbye so today was heartbreaking not being able to do that.'

School head Mark Gale had said the 'priority' was to ensure the health and safety of the pupils and said the new routine was a 'smoother way' to start the day in the new term.

He said all decisions were made in the best interests of pupils and that he would be monitoring the new arrangements.  He later added: 'The school has had some major building works over the summer and a number of classrooms have been repositioned.

'It was clear on the first morning back that the old arrangements for dropping off children were no longer suitable and were creating a confused and an unsafe situation.

'I am working with parents to find a better, smoother way to drop children off. We have further works at the school over the weekend and we will be amending our arrangements, taking into account feedback from parents, which will allow parents to use a part of the playground to drop off their children.  'It was never our intention to cause any distress to children and parents of Forster Park.'

The letter was sent by Mr Gale on the first day of his job. He wrote: 'I would also like to say how impressed I am with the children of Forster Park; they all look so smart and ready for learning. 'I am so proud of them, and it's only my first day here. Thank you for sending in such smart children.'

He also raises another health and safety issue in the letter, telling parents that birthday cake will not be given out on the pupils' birthdays.

He said: 'Due to allergies I am afraid that we cannot give out birthday cake, party bags or anything else on birthdays.

'However, we will do everything we can to make sure that your child's birthday is acknowledged and that they have an especially enjoyable day.

'I appreciate that these are quite big changes, but as ever, we are putting the children and their safety first.'


Pull Your Hair Out As You Learn the Common Core Way of Doing 6 + 10

Parents in New York are having trouble helping their kids with math homework now that the curriculum is aligned to the national Common Core standards, so a local news channel has released some videos explaining the new lessons.

Ready to pull your hair out? Here's the fancy pants new way of figuring out 9 + 6:

Instead of just, well, adding 9 and 6, students must run a gauntlet of extra addition, "decomposing" 6 into 1 and 5, "anchoring" 9 to 1 to make 10, and then adding the leftover 5. The new way requires a lot more time, a higher vocabulary, and more work. But it's somehow supposed to be "more comfortable" for young learners, in the estimation of standards peddlers.

How parents must long for the good old days of rote memorization! (Incidentally, a recent Stanford University study found that rote memorization is important for developing brains.)

The videos also illustrate why adapting to Core-aligned curriculum is a difficult—and expensive—process for schools. New instructional materials must be purchased, teachers retrained, tests rewritten, etc.



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