Fee-fixing victims still wait for cash

25th January 2008 at 00:00

More than 1,000 victims of the private school fee-fixing scandal have been denied compensation despite money being available, The TES has learnt.

Fifty schools, including Eton College and Harrow, were told to pay pound;3 million into a fund for families of former students after it was found they unfairly shared information about their fees. The schools agreed to make five annual payments of pound;600,000. However, 1,250 applicants for the first wave of handouts have been turned down, even though more than a fifth of the funds have not been distributed.

The revelation comes at a sensitive time for some of Britain's best-known public schools, which are under pressure to show they deserve to retain charitable status, worth a total of pound;100 million a year.

The Schools Competition Act Settlement Trust, the charity set up to deal with fee-fixing claims, said it had not given out pound;125,000, a fifth of the total, because it wanted to be "cautious" in its first year. The money is meant to help former pupils of the elite schools pay for their continuing education. The decision to hold some of it back has met with an angry response.

Nancy Bilderbeck, a teacher in London, was refused money for her son Ray, a former pupil of Westminster School, which was one of those implicated. "My son is now at Harvard Law School, which is costing over $50,000 (pound;25,000) a year, but he did not get any money towards that," said Mrs Bilderbeck.

"Anyone in my son's year at school could already have finished a three- year degree. Delays in giving the money out mean some people will stop being eligible. This all seems very unfair. There must be an easier way to sort this out."

Thomas Mitchell, secretary to the trust, said it was not obliged to spend a specific amount of money in any year and that the balance had been carried forward.

Leading private schools were implicated in the fee-fixing scandal following a lengthy investigation by the Office of Fair Trading in 2005.

The schools were accused of acting as a cartel to artificially increase their fees, although this claim was dropped from the final settlement. But they insisted they did not know that their long-standing practice of sharing information on fees had been made illegal.

They finally admitted a technical breach and agreed to pay a penalty of pound;10,000 each. The schools are paying a further pound;600,000 a year to the charity.

It is estimated that 40,000 former pupils could be eligible for bursaries from the trust. In December, having received 1,700 applications, it decided to give out 250 bursaries of pound;1,500 and 200 grants of pound;500.

Apart from ensuring that at least one former pupil from each school received money, the bursaries were selected randomly, the trust said.

To be eligible, applicants had to be a pupil at one of the schools after September 15, 2001, be between the ages of 18 and 30 and still be in education. They must also have started at the school at least six years before being given a bursary.

Jonathan Shephard, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, has criticised the trust's remit, saying it would have been better to put the money into initiatives for poor children, rather than those at the schools concerned.

Fee-charging schools' finances will come under increasing scrutiny this year as the Charity Commission develops tests of whether they contribute to the public benefit. Guidance for all charities was published last week, with specific consultation with independent schools due to start next month.

Peter Wilby, page 27


Ampleforth College: pound;24,270

Bedford School: 21,675

Benenden School: 24,675

Bradfield College: 24,375

Bromsgrove School: 23,640

Bryanston School: 25,485

Canford School: 24,570

Charterhouse School: 26,100

Cheltenham College: 25,845

Cheltenham Ladies' College: 24,528

Clifton College: 24,075

Cranleigh School: 24,990

Dauntsey's School: 22,605

Downe House School: 25,968

Eastbourne College: 23,025

Epsom College: 25,398

Eton College: 26,490

Gresham's School: 22,785

Haileybury:: 24,120

Harrow School: 26,445

King's School, Canterbury: 26,310

Lancing College: 24,600

Malvern College: 26,193

Marlborough College: 26,190

Millfield School: 25,095

Mill Hill School: 22,983

Oakham School: 23,850

Oundle School: 23,960

Radley College: 24,990

Repton School: 23,760

Royal Hospital School: 18,642

Rugby School: 24,915

St Edward's School, Oxford: 25,485

St Leonards-Mayfield School: 21,270

Sedbergh School: 22,665

Sevenoaks School: 26,325

Sherborne School: 25,245

Shrewsbury School: 25,110

Stowe School: 25,575

Strathallan School: 22,605

Tonbridge School: 26,826

Truro School: 18,450

Uppingham School: 24,900

Wellington College: 17,658

Wells Cathedral School: 21,306

Westminster School: 25,956

Winchester College: 26,481

Woldingham School: 23,745

Worth School: 23,112

Wycombe Abbey: 25,800.

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