Private schools are in crisis as they figure out how to deal with the coronavirus lockdown.
Britain’s private schools are governed by the same rules as state schools, so had to close on March 20.
That did not have too much of an impact as terms are shorter for fee-paying students and many at private schools went home a week earlier.
But now bills for summer term schooling are arriving on doormats and parents are wondering if they should ask for a discount.
This is complicated by the position of foreign students – thought to be almost 15,000 from China and Hong Kong alone – who could not return home when the lockdown started.
Fees slashed by some schools
Instead, schools have had to arrange to look after these children and thousands more from other countries.
Like state schools, private schools have stepped up with technology and lessons online.
Schools also have fixed costs mostly related to maintaining buildings and grounds.
Many non-teaching staff are on furlough with the government guaranteeing 80% of their wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
If parents are looking for a discount, how do they calculate how much?
And although most of the families with private-schooled children are wealthy, some may face financial difficulties related to the lockdown and cannot afford to pay.
The Independent Schools Council, trade body for 5,000 private schools worldwide, says a few schools are offering fee discounts of between 10% and 30%.
Bursars expect losses
The council’s CEO Julie Robinson said: “Most schools do not have large reserves to fall back on. Some schools had sent fees invoices before the government restricted citizens’ movements. Some schools have not yet invoiced parents and are loathe to add to the financial strain on fee-paying families, the majority of whom are dual income couples with their own financial pressures to consider.”
Although schools are showing forbearance in collecting fees, many expect to incur losses.
“Some schools are already announcing they will freeze fees for September. The long-term effects on schools will not be evident until much later. Schools absolutely understand why parents are asking questions about fees, and the difficulty we are all experiencing adjusting to the current situation, balancing work, online education and wellbeing,” she said.