A short rant about the cost of free education

Belle’s new secondary school has a fancy online payments system. Rather than take dinner money, every child has a card that you can top up from home in chunks. They also use the system to take payments for school trips to save the kids carrying round and then losing crumpled up cheques.

It’s a good idea, but having all your payments in one place does have its disadvantages, namely that you can actually see what you are having to pay for, rather than just writing a cheque early in the morning when you are being hassled on the doorstep and then instantly forgetting about it.

I logged on this week and this is what I saw:

Cost of school trips

So first up, are the lunches. Belle tends to take a packed lunch about half the time and have a school dinner on the days when I can’t be bothered to get out of bed/don’t want to have a cook a meal in the evening/have forgotten to buy bread. Obviously when she does have a cooked dinner though, she chooses the one thing that I could make at home and that costs about three pence to produce – pasta.


Value for money there then.

Then we’ve got the panto. Sure, that’s all fun and japes, but in what way is going to watch Louie Spence in Cinderalla educational? It’s not exactly what I would call curriculum enhancing.

Then they are going to London to watch The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I feel I might have bought this one upon myself to be honest. If I hadn’t gone on that Arvon course with Mark Haddon and developed that teeny tiny crush then I might never have persuaded Belle to read the book. She then wouldn’t have suggested it to her English teacher as a play to study, and then the trip would never have happened. Sorry other parents, my over-active hormones take the blame.

And then just in case two trips to the theatre weren’t quite enough for their tiny middle-class brains, they are off to Cardiff to watch War Horse.

Finally I have to fork out £250 for school camp. This I mind slightly less as it means Belle is away for five days and four nights and any parent will tell you that this is awesome. £250 still seems a bit steep though. In my day school camp meant sheltering from the rain in badly put up tents, falling in rivers and eating undercooked sausages that tasted of meths. Nowadays it’s all carefully planned fun –  deliberately wading through muddy streams in a bid to expose our children to a little bit of the outdoors, then rushing back to a cosy log cabin to check for snapchat messages.

I can pay this one in instalments, but £60 is needed by next week, along with all of the other trip money. Just before Christmas. Super. Who’s genius idea was that?

Don’t even get me started on the ‘optional ski trip’. We had a letter about this before Belle even started going to the school. £895?? Who on earth has an optional £895 lying around to send an 11 year old off skiing? For £895 I would expect her to be taken into the care of kindly nuns for at least a month, but this trip is five days!!

Five days??

Bear in mind too that all of this is on top of the million pounds* I spent in September on school uniform. The trouble with going to a ‘good’ school apparently, (or perhaps just a school that isn’t in Bridgwater), is that they are very particular about uniform. Skirts and shirts I could get away with buying at Asda, but the rest is regulation stuff, available only from one of those scary uniform shops that always seems to be staffed by a scowling old lady. Belle’s kit list included a blazer, jumper, skort,** PE t-shirt and sweatshirt complete with school logo, and school coloured rugby socks. Then there’s the school shoes, trainers and coat. And next term she is going to need football boots.

Football boots??

What is this, Eton? I half expected a straw boater and bow tie to be on the list.

I had better stop ranting and do some work so I can afford it all.

(P.S. When Belle does woodwork next term, she has to take in her own wood. I’m not even joking.)

*Almost literally.

**Not a typo, actually a thing.



  1. 28 November, 2013 / 8:45 am

    Blimey, that’s pretty steep. I’m assuming this is a very upper class establishment and not the usual comprehensive? I think the £895 for a ski trip is going to pay for some rather nice bottles of bubbly for the teachers, though that is it quite cynical of me.

    • 28 November, 2013 / 10:07 am

      It’s the local comp where my kids will probably go too and it’s terrifying!! I almost get skiing for £895 because skiing is posh, but £250 for CAMPING?? HOW?

      • admin
        28 November, 2013 / 4:39 pm

        ‘Camping’ nowadays doesn’t seem to involve actual tents!

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:39 pm

      Well, we’re in a bit of a yummy mummy area I guess, but I wouldn’t have said upper class! Needless to say she won’t be going on the ski trip…

  2. 28 November, 2013 / 8:57 am

    Hahaha, well from my teaching POV. If it is for educatonal purposes then the school have to pay for it- so why are they charging for the wood?! Extra Curr activities, you have a choice. Well sort of, because if your daughter is the only one NOT going, OMG, you’re like, well out of order!! JK

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:41 pm

      I know right?! Wood!! She has always had to take in her own ingredients for Home Ec, which I guess is a similar thing, but it doesn’t feel right. The ski trip is fine as optional, but the others aren’t really marketed as such – no one wants to be the kid left at school for the week while everyone is on camp to they?

  3. 28 November, 2013 / 9:08 am

    I was kind of wavering on the cost of free education until you said she has to take her own wood! She has to take in her own wood for a compulsory lesson?! HER OWN WOOD?

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:42 pm

      Yep, her own wood.

      I couldn’t believe it either. She walks to school for heaven’s sake – she is going to have to walk a mile with a load of wood?!

  4. 28 November, 2013 / 9:09 am

    Wow that is a pricey list. The theatre is fair enough but nearly £900 for five days skiing sounds crazy! x

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:42 pm

      We will definitely be passing on the skiing!!

  5. 28 November, 2013 / 9:44 am

    Along with various school trips, charity, costumes etc….we have been asked for several materials this term for lessons too. Some of the parents don’t bat an eyelid, some like me roll their eyes and do our best, but for some other parents it’s getting a bit much and the children notice too.

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:43 pm

      Gosh yes, there is all the costumes too – Belle’s primary school was MAD for costume days!

  6. 28 November, 2013 / 10:08 am

    This scares me! Skiing is quite posh and expensive, but HOW is camping £250??

  7. 28 November, 2013 / 1:03 pm

    And actually what’s really scary is – this is normal. That’s cheaper than the skiing trip on offer at my kids’ comprehensive (they are NOT going on said trip) it is frighteningly expensive. I could take the whole family of 5 of us on holiday for 2 weeks for less than the cost of a 5 day skiing trip – if I could afford it! I was a bit frustrated that our school does not have an online payments system but suddenly I’m feeling slightly grateful that they don’t…..

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:44 pm

      The online system is great but I do almost want to go back to the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach!

  8. 28 November, 2013 / 2:24 pm

    Oh my God this post had me gulping all the way through. Aaron’s only at nursery but I forked out £13.50 for him today as on 6 December they are having ice skating in the car park. They told me it would be £10, but all of a sudden when I get my purse out, it’s £3.50 if I want to go on the ice with him. Well a 3 year old is hardly going to skate on his own, on slippery ice when he’s never done it before……. I better get used to this if your post is anything to go by!
    Liska xx

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:45 pm

      Blimey – that’s a bit much for a nursery isn’t it?! It’s like all those kids rides where they obviously can’t go on on their own but you have to pay for the privilege of sitting on a roundabout with them – drives me nuts.

  9. 28 November, 2013 / 2:56 pm

    Things haven’t changed then… well except the prices. (My boys left school in 1999 and 2001)
    I remember forking out fortunes for uniform, footie boots and various trips. What I used to hate is when the boys wore uniform / sports kit and came home with clothing that wasn’t theirs… and it was always the cheap worn out stuff.. they could never pick up something newer than theirs.. :P
    The cost of the ski trip seems rather extortionate!!

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:46 pm

      Yes – if they are going to bring back random items the least they could do is to look for an M&S label!

  10. leah
    28 November, 2013 / 3:49 pm

    You have choice in how your child is educated, why don’t you use the money more wisely and educate your child yourself and you can choose the trips and outings your child goes on. What is your child going to benefit from these trips. My son did not go ski trip with school, because previous year the school had taken a group to area and the snow had melted.. because it was late in the season. Why not teach your child autonomously, as this seems this is what your school is doing already..

    • admin
      28 November, 2013 / 4:47 pm

      It’s a very good point Leah. The theatre trips actually I don’t mind, as I like to take Belle to the theatre myself and think it’s a really valuable experience. Skiing though – we will be keeping the cash in that case and doing something else with it!

  11. 28 November, 2013 / 10:41 pm

    “tiny middle class brains” – mega lol.
    Gosh I know, that’s insane. Also being an adult sucks I totally want to see that play, love skiing and Louie Spence in panto?! Count me in. Kids have all fun and we have to pay for it! We should get to go to everything too as a reward for paying :)

  12. 29 November, 2013 / 9:58 am

    Really not looking forward to Harry starting Primary school never mind Secondary!

  13. 29 November, 2013 / 6:36 pm

    The wood bit I spat my tea out at and then read through your comments and had to laugh – again – at the ingredients for home ec. I regularly provide stuff for my own class out of my own pocket which obviously pees me off no end. Can’t wait* for mine to get to secondary school! *I can ;)

  14. 1 December, 2013 / 4:22 pm

    Oh my goodness! That’s quite a list. My son’s school has the same payment system, but at the moment it’s only the odd trip and school meals to pay for. He’s in year 4 at the moment. Thanks for the insight on what is to come!

  15. 18 December, 2013 / 4:12 pm

    I feel your pain. Boy is in an independent school and all extras get added to the bill at the end of term….which drives me nuts as I’ve very little idea of what the extras will add up to. Poor little chap has given up his tuck as a result of my rants….it’s more to do with the fact that I like to keep track of everything. Having said that, I think seeing the ski trip (optional) with price on my account would freak me out.

    Theatre trips, trips to the museum etc I personally don’t mind….I think it is probably good for their development and after a very long coach journey back last time I suspect teachers may not be that keen to repeat too quickly!

    Foreign trips are another issue, one I have yet to negotiate as LO has additional medical needs, which complicates matters. Not sure all the kids go on skiing, or are expected to, but there are year group trips to France, and other places. In great scheme of things, probably not too bad. At old school, seniors’ ski trip was to USA with a shopping stop-over in LA….which upset some of us lesser mortals as we’d be in second mortgage territory for a week in the Dolomites. Personally, I’d rather spend the money on a family ski trip.

    Guess it’s all relative, but have to ask self whether so many additional expenses harbours inclusivity and community. One of the things I am trying with Boy is teaching him the value of money, so as he gets older may allocate him allowance and he can choose which of the optional trips to go on. Personally, I think it’s quite a bad life lesson if children are “taught” to expect someone else to pick up the tab for their foreign trips and that this is somehow expected. It’s a sort of dependency culture for the middle classes.

    I am totally with you on scary uniform shop…ours is now run by parents association and also stocks second hand uniforms, which is a vast improvement….managed to nab Boy a near-pristine blazer. And don’t get me on the subject of rugby kit (training and match kits)….though to be fair he does get a lot of use out of them.

    P.S. Your daughter has great taste, love Curious Incident and War Horse.

  16. 23 January, 2014 / 7:01 am

    Every parent wants to give best education to their kids. When I am going through your blog I find one thing which seems like with me because my son’s fee system is really different which creates problem for some times. We never stop him to go out for his trips because of outings he can manage himself with the nature. In my opinion outing and trips are really important for kids.

  17. 6 February, 2014 / 3:24 am

    Numbers that are too low may not be able to invoke enough interest to generate a profitable blogging
    empire. Your readers will appreciate having balance in
    your posts and enjoying both written word and visual elements.

  18. 10 February, 2014 / 11:14 am

    Wow! This type of payment mode in school is very unique. Generally school administrative office collect fees and other funds from children in cash but now they are changing their payment system in the school. I think this mode of payment is very safe for children and their parents and specially for school. Now it will be not necessary that parents will come and deposit their children fees. So, cool way of online collecting fees in school. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  19. 19 February, 2014 / 11:56 am

    I’m glad to read this article. Here you discussed about interesting thing. School has online payment system, that would be better and we can top up our card from home. This type of payment is unique. This is easy process to make and excellent. And also we can see history, I noticed this by watching the snapshot. I’d like to say thanks for sharing such an informative post.

  20. I think this is a good way to pay fees in schools of children. This is a very safe way to pay fees because in this payment mode system, you do not have to worry about theft. It is just like debit card using which you can pay user bills so in the same way you can pay your children fees. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  21. 10 March, 2014 / 10:47 am

    Yeah,  I agree with you that this fee system is easy as compare to others because it saves time for everyone especially for parents. I think every school should follow  this fees system to make healthy relation between school management and parents.

  22. 23 April, 2015 / 8:14 am

    Hey, your article says something about a great revolution and I believe that this is thing in which we have to take it step further . I have two children and sometimes it’s really difficult to manage their school fee system, but yours is too good.

  23. 25 April, 2015 / 8:57 pm

    It must definitely pinch seeing all the payments in one place; it really does add up, doesn’t it! Good job tax payers pay the rest; imagine how costly it would be otherwise. :-) Good rant; an enjoyable read.

  24. 4 May, 2015 / 9:12 am

    This type of system makes parents stress free from school fees tension because it is the main thing which parents always bother every time. The main thing about this system is clear from all piracy.

  25. 20 June, 2015 / 9:59 am

    Its really a great idea of the school that every child has a card that you can top up from home in chunks. So that it eliminates of carrying money or cheques with them and loosing them. Instead of carrying them one can hold in a card which is more comfortable. Great article shared by you. Thank you for the amazing article

  26. 11 May, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    My daughter is SO excited to start preschool this year! Thanks for all the tips! I definitely need to start the schedule change ahead of time!!

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