Fees – finding them


by Andrew Ashton, Bursar of Radley College,
Boarding Fees

All boarding schools charge fees, but these vary depending on the type of school and boarding requirements. Here are some typical costs (per term) for 2021 (ISC Census, 2021).

Age group Average fee per term
Sixth form £12,573
Senior £11,784
Junior £8,684

In state boarding schools, tuition is paid for by the state. Extras can add considerably to the bill (perhaps up to 10 per cent of fees), depending largely on which activities your child chooses to take part in – for example, music tuition or school trips. Allowance should be made for expenses relating to books, entries for public examinations, stationery and uniforms. Schools do have different approaches to extras, and what is included in the fee, so this is worth careful scrutiny.

Planning for school fees

It is important to prepare for the commitment of paying fees for several years, having in place a strategy that will enable the school fees to be met in the event of death, an illness or loss of income, and considering how fees need not be entirely dependent on earned income, so ensuring a child will be able to complete their education. Planning strategies can significantly reduce the financial burden of school fees, so take professional advice. 

Planning can be covered under six headings:

Spreading the cost

Many parents experience difficulties in funding school fees continuously from taxed income. There are several schemes available designed to help parents in this situation. The purpose of these plans is to improve cash flow and hence make school fees more affordable. In essence, this involves spreading an element of the school fees over a longer period of time. For example, a parent may be able to afford comfortably 70 per cent of the school fees from income, but the additional amount may prove to be a strain. In this instance, it may be possible to take out a draw-down plan against the equity in the family house to spread the school fees for the balance of 30 per cent over say a 10-, 15- or 20-year period. 

Investing a lump sum

Early investment of capital can avoid the need to use income for providing for school fees in later years, or at worst go a significant way towards reducing reliance on income. The need for tax efficiency and flexibility of approach can be tailored to individual requirements. Some schools offer specific schemes tailored for advance payment of fees, and if you have a lump sum available, it is worth exploring this as an option.

Regular saving

Regular saving for school fees should ideally be started as soon as possible. The longer you save, the less the impact will be on income when school fees fall due – or consider some sort of endowment or life assurance policy. Income or capital sums derived from such policies are normally tax-free. 

Payment protection

It is important to ensure the payment of children’s school fees can be continued in the event of a change in your personal circumstances due to serious illness, injury or death. A lump sum can be provided by life insurance. Income protection plans can guarantee income through to retirement in the event of specified illnesses or accidents. Some schools may offer temporary fee support in cases of unanticipated hardship (including loss of income or employment as a result of Covid-19) – but it is important not to rely on this being the case, and support may only be provided for a short duration. If you do experience a change in circumstances that affects your ability to pay, it is important to be open with the school from the outset. Fees refund schemes are available which can provide cover in the event of absence through illness or accident and these are well worth considering.

Trust planning

Trust planning can be useful for grandparents who wish to make provisions for school fees and achieve inheritance tax benefits at the same time. Trusts offer the benefit of transferring the tax liability on future income and capital gains to the children to use their personal annual allowances. There are basically two types of trust: 

Maintenance trusts offer both of the above. Financial advice should of course be sought when establishing trusts.

Financial assistance


Charitable grant-making trusts are able to help only in cases of genuine need. The trusts will reject applications unless their specific requirements are satisfied. Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation (Royal SpringBoard) helps vulnerable children and young people in Britain whose circumstances are seriously prejudicial to their normal development and where no other care is available. The charity helps by providing grants and boarding school places for children aged 7 to 18 who have suffered trauma, tragedy or neglect in their young lives. These are young people who usually have one or no active parent, whose normal development is compromised or threatened by adverse home, school or family circumstances. The charity supports cases of social need and not educational preference. Details can be found at www.royalspringboard.org.uk or through the Directory of Grant Making Trusts at www.dsc.org.uk 


An increasing number of boarding schools offer bursaries, which are grants from the school to help parents pay the fees. These are generally awarded after a ‘means test’ of family income and are not dependent on examination performance, although some account will be taken of academic or other ability. Bursaries may be awarded in addition to a scholarship where financial need is demonstrated and the child would otherwise be unable to enter the school. To obtain a bursary, parents will usually be asked to complete an application form, providing details of their financial circumstances, supported by documentary evidence and including capital assets. The application is likely to be considered by a combination of governors, the Head and the Bursar. Some schools outsource the assessment to an external company which will also conduct a home visit and an interview. The award will usually remain in force throughout the pupil’s school career – although in some cases an award made before GCSE will not necessarily continue into the sixth form. Most schools review bursaries annually to ensure the justification for an award remains. Bursaries are less common at prep schools, although many prep schools do offer some awards. 


Many senior schools and a few prep schools offer scholarships to attract bright or talented pupils. A scholarship is awarded for academic promise or on the basis of special ability in music, art or some other specialism or all-round merit. Some schools give awards for drama, sport, and design and technology. They are usually awarded after a competitive examination and interview, and normally take no account of financial need. Academic scholarships are the most common, followed by scholarships for music, art, design and technology, and sport.

Talented children are invited to compete in open scholarship examinations. The schools hold these exams in the September–December and January–April terms of the year before admission. Scholarships are usually awarded at ages 11, 13 and 16, with pupils already at the school having the opportunity to sit for awards at ages 13 and 16. Scholarships at the age of 16 for candidates already at the school are frequently awarded on the basis of GCSE results, with awards for new students being made as a result of an interview and report from the previous school, usually with the requirement to achieve certain grades at GCSE. Competition is strong but, as long as the pupil makes satisfactory progress, a scholarship is normally held for the duration of his or her time at the boarding school. Past papers are available from many schools, which will give an idea of the standards demanded. Take advice from the Head of your child’s present school about the chances of success.

Several organisations offer sixth-form scholarships to enable pupils to stay on at school until they enter the next stage of their career on a university course. These scholarships are awarded for two years, after which acceptance is guaranteed, providing the appropriate qualifications are achieved and medical standards satisfied.

Scholarships vary in value – they might be worth as little as 10 per cent or they may be honorary accolades that come with no fee discount. In general, schools now limit the value of scholarships, such that any extra being awarded is strictly subject to financial need. You should find out from the school what scholarships are offered, and what each is worth so you are not disappointed if you cannot afford the remainder of the fees if your child wins one of the smaller awards. 

Other educational awards

Many schools also offer closed awards to children of members of the Armed Services, as well as clergy, teachers and some other professions. Some give help to children of former pupils, to single-parent families and orphans, or concessions for brothers and sisters. The conditions of these educational awards can vary enormously. They are often described as fee concessions, reductions or discounts. Some are not available annually and depend on the terms of an endowment. Others simply say special consideration may be given to pupils in a particular category. 

There are many options to consider and there is a great deal of financial help available. Read this Guide thoroughly and explore schools’ websites. Above all, do not be afraid to ask schools exactly what they have on offer. It can be a lengthy task, but potentially very worthwhile. Start planning as early as possible and do not be afraid to take advice. 

Further information

SFIA Schools Fee Planning

Tel: 0845 4583690



View a full list of boarding schools here.

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