Launch of Fee Affordability and Parental Time Surveys

Posted: Wednesday 17 February 2016

Fee affordability has been the elephant in the room for the last twenty years. However, it is no longer one that we can ignore, as the pressure many parents are under to keep up with fee increases now threatens both pupil numbers and the social mix which is at the heart of independent school life. However, the extent to which this is a genuine problem for any individual school is largely unknown as, unlike in most other industries, very few schools know much, if anything, about their customers. For example, how much their parents earn, who in practise pays the fees and how they do so e.g. parents from earnings, investments or re-mortgaging, the levels of support from grandparents, employers etc., how affordable or tough parents are really finding the fees and how hard parents are having to work to pay for them. Indeed, even if schools were to ask parents questions such as these, the extent to which answers would be wholly honest is questionable!

In response to this need for information, Baines Cutler has launched a new service for schools - a fully anonymous and confidential “Fee Affordability and Parental Time” survey, available for any school to commission from us. This survey gets right underneath the issues of fee affordability and the pressures parents are feeling to keep their children in independent education. The “Fee Affordability and Parental Time Survey” asks your parents all the important questions you need the answers to in an anonymous and confidential way and provides the answers to you in aggregated form so that your parents have the confidence to answer honestly. Not only does the survey collect the answers you need with regard to how fees are paid and how challenged parents feel in paying them, but it also gathers contextual information to give real meaning to your results, such as the pressures parents feel in their working lives, how many children they are having to support at other schools or at university and how many have mortgages and so are exposed to interest rate changes. We also cover how many parents pay childcare costs and when in the day/week/holidays these are, so that schools can potentially offer parents additional support or provision at the specific times they are most in need of it. Such data will also allow you to set your school’s fee pricing, bursary and sibling discount policies in the light of the real circumstances of your own parental body, rather than just “following the market” as many schools end up doing.

As the sector’s leading and most well-known benchmarking specialists, we will then analyse the data for you and provide you with a detailed report, providing you with your school’s parental earnings profile, details of how this changes in different year groups or parts of the school, who is actually paying your fees (i.e. parents, grandparents, employers), details of your parents’ working lives, childcare commitments and much more. For boarding schools, we also analyse all the above by type of fee and provide separate data for day parents and the different types of boarding parents i.e. weekly and flexi boarding, full boarding, international parents etc. Attached is an example report with all the information you would receive.

We have piloted the survey and our experience is that, as long as the invitation to participate from the head teacher reassures parents that the survey is completely anonymous, is being conducted by a third party, and that the purpose is to help the school understand its parental body better, participation rates are usually excellent. You can of course write this invitation letter yourselves but I have also attached a template invite letter, complied with the help of a number of heads and bursars, which you could use and/or edit. You may commission a survey from us at any time to suit you and you can survey all or just a part of your school. Once you commission a survey, we will send you a website link and a unique 4-digit access code which you can send on to your parents with your invitation to participate. If you would like to see the survey questions and website please click on the link below, enter code 1000 to see an example day school questionnaire, code 2000 for an example boarding school questionnaire - and then follow the instructions.

As this survey is focused on affordability we have made every effort to ensure that this survey is priced as cost-effectively as possible for every type and size of school and have spent 6 months getting the survey and reporting right. What this means is that the survey questions and reporting are standard and fixed (allowing of course for differences between day and boarding schools, junior and senior). However, we do understand that a head or bursar may wish to add a few additional questions and we offer this facility if you would like it. So the example online questionnaires contain additional questions on school transport but you can ask whatever additional questions you want. You will see the pricing structure on page 1 at the front of the attached example report. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this further, or to commission a survey, please contact me.

Website link to questionnaire:

For further details please contact Rhiannon Cutler on or 07949 566298

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