We are in unprecedented times with Covid-19 and its threat to our liberty and ability to go about our daily lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than for parents, after the government last week announced the nationwide closure of British schools in order to slow the spread of the virus.
However, my husband and I were surprised to receive an invoice for next term's school fees last week. Yes they had a small deduction for lunch provision. And the school’s chief executive followed up formally with a letter advising us that continued parental support in the face of uncertainty would enable them to continue with their offer of “a first-class education during and beyond the current challenging situation.” But really? My children aren't able to go to school and you're still charging me the fees regardless?
Private schools remain one of the few service providers planning to charge full price for a pared-down service this summer. Even rail commuters with season tickets have been guaranteed a refund by the Transport Secretary.
There is an assumption, among some, that when it comes to wealth in the middle- to upper-classes that they will continue to gain a steady stream of work during this global health pandemic. Just witness the Guardian columnist Owen Jones opining that the middle classes can simply do their jobs from home.
But this doesn't apply to all professions. What about dentists, optometrists, surveyors? Small business owners? Many have scrimped and saved as it is to send their children to private schools. Can't the schools in their turn look at ways in which to cut their costs at this time, and pass that on to parents?
At the very least, they could try and provide something of a superior offering for those parents continuing to pay through the nose. My husband and I selected a private school because it will provide our children with access to a new social environment. We hope that attending the ‘right’ school can become a vehicle for social mobility, and will give them social capital, teaching them how to become more polished, in their accents, behaviour and mannerisms.
In light of this, I would expect private schools to create a brand-new timetable with access to pre-recorded or virtual school classes and daily activities set accordingly to accompany each session. Access to their teachers during this period is vital for maintaining what, in my opinion, would equate to the delivery of a first-class education, as opposed to a myriad of suggested activities and website logins, many of which now struggle with unprecedented demand.
Although my children’s school has assured us that fees will not rise in September, all private schools should consider offering partial refunds, as well as removing fees pertaining to food (since most children will be eating their parents out of house and home during this period).
The sole provision of technology-based learning, without any teacher interaction, does not suffice as ‘continuity of education’. If my daughter’s violin teacher can schedule a weekly video call for group lessons, surely the school can do it too.