When education moved out of the classroom and onto the kitchen table for the summer term of 2020, parents had little choice but to become more closely involved with their children’s learning than ever before. Our unique survey ‘The impact of COVID-19 on parental perceptions of fee-charging education’ shows that the lockdown schooling experience of many parents of state school pupils in the UK has led them to consider fee-charging schools in a new and more positive light.

It may be thought unfortunate that it has taken a global pandemic to highlight the disparity of education provision in the UK. While some students spent every day of the summer term sitting dutifily in front of their laptops or tablets engaging in a full timetable of virtual lessons at home, others waved a pencil across a photocopied worksheet and then went off to amuse themselves in whatever way was permissible in a national lockdown.

In an effort to quantify families’ impressions of their lockdown home-schooling experience, we surveyed a cross-section of parents in our usual wealth categories, whose children currently attend either state or independent schools.

The results should be quite heartening for our sector. In fact, they are a particular acknowledgement to the school leaders, teaching and non-teaching staff who have worked so hard throughout these very challenging times to ensure that their students’ education has not been irretrievably interrupted by such an unprecedented world event.

Lockdown schooling

Three-quarters of the parents of pupils at state and independent schools who took part in our survey told us that the quality of education their children received during lockdown was ‘good’ or ‘very good’. However, those with children at fee-charging schools were much more satisfied than those at state schools – 90% of families paying school fees rated their experience as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ and three-quarters of them were sure the education their children received was better than that experienced by children at state schools. In contrast, only 11% of families who don’t pay fees thought their children’s lockdown schooling was ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Would you pay fees in future?

In the light of the lockdown education experience, we found that 27% of families in our High Roads category (wealthy households with older families, typically rural) and 22% in our Aspirational Areas category (less affluent households making sacrifices to afford fees) would be likely to consider paying for their children’s education.

Why? 

Over half (54%) of the families in our survey who don’t currently pay fees said they would be more likely to consider an independent school if it could evidence better academic results than their current school, with 46% looking for a better quality of teaching and 42% persuaded by smaller class sizes.

Financial sacrifices

Those in the lower income bracket, our survey has shown, are now willing to consider making financial sacrifices to prioritise their children’s education. Crucially, 64% of families who don’t currently pay school fees would entertain the notion of a fee-charging school in future, as a direct result of their lockdown schooling experience. To pay for it, almost half (48%) our non-fee-paying families said they would be prepared to forego a new or expensive car, and 35% said they would cut back on holidays.

Continuing to pay fees with confidence

A third of the families who currently pay school fees and fall into our Low Roads category (low income households who have the support of, for example, grandparents or bursaries) said they now felt a lot more confident about the value of paying school fees in the light of their lockdown schooling experience. Interestingly, half of our Superstreets (super wealthy households living in urban areas) parents said they were now feeling less confident.

Reasons to pay fees

Better academic results and a good all-round education would encourage half of our independent school families to continue paying fees. Guaranteed access to top universities was not a major factor – only 7% of our respondents listed this as a priority.

Rating digital learning 

The vast majority (82%) of the families in our survey, with children at state and independent schools, had been offered online or digital learning during lockdown – 94% at fee-charging schools and 78%, state. 90% of those paying fees rated their children’s digital learning ‘good’ or ‘very good’ but only 75% of those who don’t pay fees.

Virtual extra lessons?

Seeing an opportunity for independent schools, we were interested to know if parents who don’t pay fees would consider purchasing virtual lessons from an independent school in future – just over a third said they were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to. Maths and English were the obvious preferred subjects, but actually 46% of our keen families said they would most likely purchase geography. £20 was considered by just under a third of these families as a reasonable price per lesson, but just over a quarter would be prepared to pay up to £60 (only 4% said they would consider paying more). Overall, 91% said they would be prepared to pay between £20 and £60.

Conclusion

No-one would wish for a countrywide lockdown, least of all anyone who has a concern for our children and the continuity of their education.

However, our survey of families who have lived through this year’s experience has highlighted the perennial reasons why parents choose fee-charging schools for their offspring, during a global pandemic or at any other time.

High-quality teaching and better than average academic results are always desirable, but perhaps, when life is suddenly thrown into disarray and education is carried out under parents’ noses at home rather than in the classroom, these factors are more important than ever. Our survey shows that parents recognise independent schools as being best able to deliver this quality of education, and affording it is now a much higher priority.

 

The survey

In June 2020, MTM surveyed 528 UK families with incomes of £60,000+ whose children attend state or independent schools.

We wanted to understand their perceptions of the education provision their children’s schools had offered during the period of lockdown, which covered the summer term 2020, and how this has affected their view of their children’s future schooling.

Download, free-of-charge, MTM’s full and detailed report,

‘The impact of COVID-19 on parental perceptions of fee-charging education, July 2020’