Private vs state school? Hidden costs explained

Choosing whether to go the private or state education route? Termly fees are the core cost of sending a child to private school but it’s also worth factoring into your decision making the supplementary and sometimes hidden costs.

Even in the state sector, with the rising cost of food and fuel, and with inflation at a 40-year high, many schools are having to pass on the extra cost of trips and extra-curricular clubs to parents too.

So, what exactly can you expect to pay on top of termly private school fees and how do these costs compare with a state education?


Private school extra costs 

With termly fees reaching an average of £5,218 per term, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the cost of books and meals would be included. Wrong, depending on the individual school, parents and carers are expected to foot the bill for anything that does not include actual teaching.

From Art supplies to school meals, uniform to laptops, there are a huge range of additional and unexpected costs that should be considered when choosing the private school education route.

Here is our private school extras checklist to help you clarify what added extras you may be expected to pay for with the school admissions team:

·       Transportation – be it to and from school or between sporting matches or on school excursions, the fees for private school buses can be quite pricey especially when you factor in siblings.

·       Meals – most private schools include the costs of meals in their termly fees, however some do not, and the fees can reach their hundreds per term. Other schools request that parents keep a meals account topped up with funds which pupils can draw on by swiping a card each day.

·       Books – Not all schools require parents to stump the extra money for these vital curriculum staples, but textbooks are expensive, especially when they reach a higher secondary level.

·       Uniform – All schools will require pupils to wear the correct uniform and some private schools only allow uniform to be purchased from an approved supplier. It’s worth checking on the second-hand market – many parent volunteers run excellent sales to avoid waste.

·       Sports equipment – From hockey sticks and cricket bats, specialist mouthguards and protective headgear, most schools will expect pupils to be properly equipped and this will not be something that the school will fund.

·       IT/Laptops – Most schools have moved to an online homework system and will expect pupils to have access to the internet and a computer or laptop to either bring to school or use at home.

·       Art and DT supplies – For higher levels such as GCSE and A-Level or IBacc parents may be asked to pay for specialist paints or resources to support pupils to complete their coursework.

·       Exam Fees – For most private schools, parents will have to pay fees for entrance exams, but statutory exam fees, as they progress through school, may also need to be financed.

·       School Trips – From Geography trips to Iceland, skiing in Canada to drama trips to New York, field trips fees can be exorbitant and when you factor in the insurance and kit list, they can reach into their multiple thousands.

·       Insurance – Usually factored into termly fees, some schools make this a separate charge so it’s worth checking in with the admissions team.

·       Stationery – Some schools request that an account with funds be created for pupils to access the stationery store or tuck shop throughout the term – there are certainly ways around this, but in boarding schools, it is often a pre-requisite.

·       School photos – Annual individual, sibling, sporting teams and whole school photos are part of the school calendar. Whether or not you actually like the professional photo of your little darling, they are a regular occurrence, and the bill for ordering photos will most certainly be met by the parents.

·       Extra-curricular – Many private schools include extra-curricular activities in their termly fees, however attendance of some clubs such as Drama or the Model UN may be accompanied by extra costs.

·       Foreign language magazines – Not all private schools will charge separately for these items, however with rising costs, it is likely that items such as these may be passed onto parents.

Our checklist is not designed to scare parents away from choosing a private education for their child, it has been created to help you get a clear picture of ACTUAL termly fees as opposed to those stated on the school website. Information is power, check this list with the school admissions team to get the answers you need quickly.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most bursaries and scholarships won't cover additional costs such as those listed above. 

There can also be costs for entering pupils into GCSE and A level exams, and there may be charges for learning support and SEN provision depending on your child's needs. 


Hidden costs of a state school education

If you are a parent to a pre-schooler, it might surprise you to discover that a state school education is not completely free. There are hidden costs attached to attending any school. In fact, many families are feeling the pinch of the rise in food costs and fuel charges more than ever before.

Unless your child is entitled to free school meals or a recipient of pupil premium funding, then state school parents will be expected to foot the bill for the following items:

·       School meals – Usually funded using a School Gateway account, if children are not taking in packed lunches, parents need to keep the school dinner money topped up each term. School meals usually cost between £2 and £3 per day, but if you have multiple children these costs can mount up over the year.

·       School trips – The costs of transport and entry to educational events and institutions are usually passed to the parents. If the school has a fundraising team or parent teacher association (PTA), then the cost of school trips can often be subsidised leaving a nominal fee to be met by parents who can afford to.

·       Uniform – Most schools are flexible in terms of suppliers, but certain items such as blazers, ties or embroidered jumpers and sports kit can be more expensive. A new law passed in April 2021 makes affordable uniform a requirement for schools to source.

·       Sports Equipment – As with private schools, secondary-aged pupils are expected to turn up to school with their own tennis racquets, mouthguards, hockey sticks or gym friendly non-marking trainers etc.

·       Stationery and books – Most books are supplied by schools, however as with private schools, when pupils reach a higher level, there will be textbooks and subject supplies that parents will need to cover.

·       School fundraisers – State schools are regularly raising funds to cover updates to the facilities and develop new resources to support the education of their pupils. Funding a legacy is never a hard sell, but the number of fundraising events and requests can become exhaustive.

·       Transport – Whether you choose to car share, use public transport, or take advantage of a school bus, the costs will usually be met by parents. Choosing a local school will certainly help to reduce these additional costs.

·       Extra-curricular clubs – As with private schools, some clubs and activities may carry extra charges that parents will need to fund unless they qualify for financial support from the school.

·       IT/Laptops – Most secondary and some primary schools have moved to an online homework system and will expect pupils to have access to the internet and a computer or laptop to use at home.

·       School photos – As with private schools, the annual individual, sibling, sporting teams and whole school photos are part of the school calendar and parents can be expected to pay if they can find a photo they like!

Although the costs of a state school education are substantially lower than a private school education, there are still plenty of hidden costs that parents will need to bear in mind when making an informed choice.