A leading public school is to be the first to cut its fees after more than a decade.
Millfield School, which charges more than £38,000 a year for children aged 13 and over to board, plans to reduce its fees by 10 per cent.
As reported in today’s Sunday Times, headteacher Gavin Horgan is calling on other private schools to follow his lead and says it is “the right thing to do”.
He said: “I think private school fees have risen at too fast a rate. I want to cut fees by 10 per cent. We would be the first leading public school to cut fees for many years. I hope other public schools will follow because it is the right thing to do.
“British public schools have priced the middle classes out of the market. There used to have to be one doctor in the family to be able to afford private education, now there must be at least two. That is unsustainable long-term.
“We are keener than ever to make our education available to everyone, regardless of their background and financial means.”
The move also follows claims that British public schools have become the domain of only the wealthiest of British families as well as Russian oligarchs, Chinese tycoons and other well-heeled international families. One headteacher has blamed an “endless queue” of rich families from outside Britain for years of rises in fees.
Overall, private school fees, including day schools, have risen by more than 50 per cent over the past 10 years, according to figures from the Independent Schools Council. In 2008, the average boarding school charged £22,000 a year but today the figure is £33,700.
There has also been pressure on private schools to do more to educate children who cannot afford their fees to justify their charitable status – which gives them tax breaks that many regard as questionable.
Millfield, in Somerset, spends £7.5m on bursary support for children who cannot afford the fees, with 15 out of 1,240 paying little or nothing, although Horgan admitted that many schools were working with such tight margins that cutting fees is difficult.
Millfield is now launching a drive for donations, led by former pupil and Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew, in a bid to treble the number of bursaries it can offer.
Goodhew said: “After my father’s death, I received a crucial scholarship from Millfield School, without which my swimming career would have died.”
The campaign is also backed by former Welsh rugby scrum-half Sir Gareth Edwards who also received a scholarship at Millfield.
He said: “When I was a teenager I never thought for a moment what the future held for me. My scholarship at Millfield brought me opportunities that transformed my life, no doubt about it.”