Private schools: We can't refund fees this term

Private schools say charity law means that they cannot refund fees to parents during the third national lockdown

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus school closures: Private schools say they cannot refund fees to parents this term because of charity law

Headteachers at private schools have told parents that they cannot issue fee refunds for this term because of charity law.

Following the introduction of a third national lockdown, both private and state schools are closed until February half-term except for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

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As reported by The Telegraph, unlike last year, when many private schools offered fee reductions to parents in the spring, schools will not be offering rebates for this term.

Heads say that charity law dictates that they cannot issue refunds for invoices that have been issued and paid.

“The vast majority of private schools are charities,” said Christopher King, chief executive of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools.

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“Most of our schools, prior to the introduction of lockdown, will have already issued their invoice for this term. As charities, they are not allowed to withdraw an invoice that has been issued. So if there is to be any consideration on the fees, it will have to wait, due to charity law, until the summer bill is issued.”

Mr King said boarding schools could be an exception, as they might be able to pass on savings on boarding and food costs to parents.

When schools were ordered to close last year on 23 March, invoices had not been issued for the summer term.

Tes reported at the time that private schools were "wrestling" with what school fees to charge for the summer term, with some fearing for their financial futures.

In April, Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said that schools did not wish to pass on financial burdens to parents but were also "anxious about the future when so much remains uncertain".

"The schools we have spoken to expect to take losses, painful ones," she said.

"Most schools do not have large reserves to fall back on. Some schools had sent fee invoices before the government restricted citizens’ movements."

"Some schools have not yet invoiced parents and are loath 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."

When schools started billing parents for the summer term over the Easter holidays, parents argued that they should not pay full fees while schools were closed, with many bursars agreeing to fee reductions.

Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, said parents now were less insistent on fee reductions compared with last year because of the improvements in online lessons.

“We have had quite an effective switch to remote teaching,” he said.

“The experience of the first lockdown means schools are, on the whole, better prepared.

“There is a lot more confidence in the quality of what is being done now, partly because parents have seen what is possible and there is more experience in doing it. Last lockdown was a real learning curve. Schools now have all that expertise and experience banked.”

He added: "If you have already sent out the invoice, or fees have already been received, under charity law you wouldn't be able to return the money unless you were not providing services you were contracted to deliver.

“If schools are providing the learning online, you wouldn’t be able to change the fees. What a lot of schools also did last year was freeze fees for this academic year, so effectively fees are already reduced. Schools have already done a significant amount to reduce the burden on the fee payer.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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