Budget for the extra costs of independent school

Musical instruments, uniform, overseas trips, meals, clubs and sport can add an extra 20 per cent to your bill each term. Find out exactly what to budget for and where you can make savings, says Gail Dixon

Buy musical instruments second hand and wait to see if your child wants to pursue this hobby before splashing out

1 Uniform

Specific and distinctive styles of clothing are often obligatory at private schools. For instance, at Tony Blair’s alma mater Fettes, College in Edinburgh, girls are required to wear a specific green, navy and burgundy tartan skirt which costs from £52 from the school shop, and boys sport a dashing cerise and amber blazer, which costs between £105 and  £155.

Add all the other items of clothing needed and it’s a tidy sum, but cost-conscious parents can make savings by buying second-hand clothes and kit from the thrift shop at Fettes.

Many private schools have a contact for second-hand clothing, kit, books and instruments, so ask at open days or visits for more information. 

Budget: According to the age of your child, expect to spend at least £300 per year on uniform

2 Sportswear and kit

This will make up a large proportion of your bill for extras. For example, at Oakham School in Rutland the required items for girls’ sportswear add up to £218 and yet this figure does not include trainers, hockey boots, tennis racket or towels. At Merchiston Castle school, in Edinburgh, a rugby top with logo can cost up to £34.60, which may last just one season, depending on growth spurts...

Uniform details should be sent to you before your child starts school, or be available on the school’s website.

Budget: Between £200-£350 per year

3 School meals

Many private day schools specify that lunch (and sometimes tea) is mandatory. This can add up to around £180 per term, on average, and is detailed on the bill on this page (below). If your child needs to stay for supper at school, this can cost an extra £3 per day. 

Budget: £550 per year

4 Musical instruments and lessons

Private schools tend to offer excellent musical tuition, and while the cost of lessons may be competitive, instruments can be eye-wateringly expensive. Imagine that your child fancies taking up the trombone. You could shell out £900 for a standard model that could be abandoned within weeks for an electric guitar and left to gather dust in the attic.

Look online or ask around at school and in music shops for second-hand instruments. You should be able to pick up a good instrument at a fraction of the price. 

Budget: £500 per year


5 Clubs, activities and excursions

Extra-curricular activities at private schools incorporate a vast and eclectic range of pursuits. The common denominator tends to be cost. Both boarding and day schools offer sporty diversions such as golf tournaments, orienteering, clay pigeon shooting, tennis, rugby and sailing.

Add to that theatre trips, dance classes, cookery clubs and jewellery making, and your child could be taking part in several extra activities a week.

If you’re concerned about cost, ask for a list of prices for clubs and lessons at the start of term.

Regarding trips, pre-prep children will be encouraged to go on short day trips, which start from around £30 per day. As your child gets older, they’re likely to be offered an array of more adventurous trips, such as skiing holidays, cultural city breaks and perhaps volunteer work in Africa. 

Budget: £300 a year for pre-preparatory children; £500 plus for children at preparatory and upper school


6 Extras at boarding school

If you send your child to boarding school laundry will add an extra line on your bill and some schools require parents to provide bed linen and towels. Meals are usually included in the term fees, but your child will need pocket money for treats from the tuck shop and general expenses.

Some boarding schools have accounts at their shops where parents can make a deposit at the start of term and children can buy groceries, sweets, stationery and clothing. A sum of between £50 and £100 per child per term is normally advised. Your travel to and from school should also be budgeted for, as well as your child’s travel to sports events.

Do your homework and check out costs before you visit any boarding schools. If your total makes you reach for the Minervois, bear in mind the savings that you will make at home during term on meals, heating, laundry and running the daily taxi service. 

Budget: from £500 to £1000 a year

Case study

"We budget at least 20 per cent for extras"

Case study

Jane and Dave Smith have two sons at a private day school, Dan, aged 17, and Michael, aged 12. Their bill for Michael shows the spring term fees of £3263 and extra costs that add up to £711 (21 per cent of the fees). Many of the extra costs are unavoidable and include uniform purchased from the school shop and lunch/tea. Based on this calculation, for Michael alone the price of fees and extras in one year would be £11,923. Click on the bill to see a larger version.



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