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Fees and feasibility

Putting your child through private education might not be as expensive as you think, with the right advice, says Alison Brace

If the merest mention of school fees brings on a disturbing nervous twitch for political and social reasons, then this article is not for you.

However, if it is because you are one of the 500,000 families trying to fund your child's private education, then here are some tips that might lighten your load.

And if the decision is still ahead of you, then sit down before you read the following fact: it now costs, on average, pound;250,000 to educate a child in the private sector from four to 18.

Being able to find that kind of money is all in the planning, according to the School Fees Investment Advisers (SFIA). It's all about making what money you have work for you.

"People think it is just about money, but assessing what you have and planning for the future is the key part," says Chris Procter, SFIA's managing director.

This is far more complicated than popping money into several high interest savings accounts or mortgaging yourself up to the hilt.

Hence, specialist advice is the key. It doesn't come cheaply - but could buy you peace of mind and help you maintain your standard of living. SFIA, for instance, offers a free initial consultation, but charges pound;370 when it starts to draw up a tax-efficient plan for you - and it advises that you take advantage of frequent reviews.

Its savings and investments plans, however, can save you up to 50 per cent on fees in the long term.

"If you are looking at fees of between pound;800 and pound;1,000 a month, we can make your existing outgoings more efficient and bring that figure down to pound;500 a month," says Chris.

This could involve, for instance, making large payments into a pension fund where the tax relief would be used to set up a borrowing arrangement for the fees.

Always, though, check out first whether your child might be entitled to any bur-saries, scholarships or help from educational charities. If you teach in a private school, you will be entitled to a substantial reduction in fees for your children if they join the school. Almost a third of pupils in the independent sector now receive some kind of assistance in paying fees, according to the Independent Schools Council's annual census, published this month. A quarter receive assistance directly from the school. This help is worth more than pound;300 million a year.

Gabbitas education consultants tell parents to remember that the overall annual cost of educating your child in the private sector will be more than the fees alone, so budget accordingly. Money is also needed for uniforms, games equipment, trips, school meals and music lessons.

That is why adequate insurance should always be a key feature of your school fees plan. If your earnings dry up, for whatever reason, it's important your child's education is not interrupted as a result.

Obviously, the sooner you start to save for your child's fees, the better.

But even if you find yourself suddenly opting for the private sector when your child is older, SFIA reassures parents that it's never too late to spread the costs and lessen the fina-ncial burden To find an independent financial adviser in your area, go to

Average school fees (termly)

Boarding pound;6,712

Day fee (boarding schools) pound;3,715

Day fee (day schools) pound;2,707

Overall day fee pound;2,885

Overall average pound;3,391

Source: ISC Census 2007

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