Do Schools Need to Make it Easier for Parents to Pay School Fees?

31/05/2012 15:03 BST | Updated 30/07/2012 10:12 BST

Contrary to what some might expect as the economy enters into double dip recession, the latest figures published by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) revealed that the number of children being educated privately in the UK has risen for the first time since 2008.

Pupil numbers are up by 0.1% compared to 2011 according to the ISC's annual census - and this is despite fees rising by 4.5%.

But with household bills rising and many wage packets standing still, could schools be doing more to support parents who choose to invest in a private education for their child?

Balancing the books

Schools north of the border have reportedly handed out more than £35 million to help parents who are struggling to pay their child's fees. This is twice the amount being spent just three years ago, which suggests that there is little room for complacency in the independent school marketplace.

Some schools have started collecting their fees annually, in advance. This is one way to protect your school's income, but it is likely to put financial pressure on all but the highest earning families and could lead to falling pupil numbers in some schools.

As family budgets tighten, utility companies and other retailers have introduced a wave of strategies to retain customers and prevent them from defaulting on their payments. Some of these measures would be incredibly simple to introduce in a school setting, helping to secure cash flow while meeting the needs of many families who are making financial sacrifices in order to keep their child's school fee payments up to date.

Looking at the options

One option is to provide a monthly or termly direct debit facility for settling school fees. This can make payments more manageable for families and is an efficient way to collect fees from the growing number of parents who live overseas.

Families are also becoming increasingly accustomed to having payment reminders texted directly to a mobile phone. This gives busy parents a gentle nudge and helps them to keep on top of their bills.

Schools have traditionally resisted taking credit card payments for school fees due to the bank charges incurred. However, this may be a much more cost effective route than employing the services of a credit controller so this could be another option to consider.

It is worth taking a closer look at the tools available in your school's management information system too. Having a system that will automate many of the processes associated with fees billing will help you save time for staff as well as the cost of printing and posting invoices and letters.

Schools that have gone down this route have been able to manage their finances more efficiently and in some cases have even seen money coming in much more quickly than it did when they were relying on the receipt of a cheque at the beginning of term.

As the ISC figures suggest, many families are continuing to invest in a private education for their child. But while the economic forecast remains uncertain, schools need to do all they can to ensure parents continue to make this a top priority.