20/04/2020 - 14:31

School fees mostly a private matter

20/04/2020 - 14:31

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As students transition to remote learning ahead of a new school term, private schools are grappling with whether to adjust tuition fees.

St Stephen’s principal Donella Beare says the school will lower fees to aid families affected by the pandemic. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

As students transition to remote learning ahead of a new school term, private schools are grappling with whether to adjust tuition fees.

Western Australia’s private schools are taking divergent approaches to cost and income management as they approach the new term.

In response to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, some private educators are seeking to maintain current fee levels while others are aggressively cutting school fees.

The issue has arisen following a nation-wide shift to remote learning at the end of term one, which is expected to continue throughout term two.

Although students are encouraged to stay home where possible, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month that schools must remain open for students whose parents were essential workers or otherwise could not be supervised by another caregiver.

Among some of the schools in WA to cut tuition fees in recent weeks are St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls, Hale School and Perth College (see table).

All Saints' College principal Belinda Provis wrote to parents earlier this month announcing a reduction of up to 25 per cent for tuition, noting that while most of the school’s costs were fixed, students were unable to access campus facilities or co-curricular activities that their fees would ordinarily pay for.

“[T]he college has been focused on prudently managing our resources at this time, making cost savings where possible in the interests of the entire community.

This has seen us implement some significant measures in order to minimise expenditure,” she said.

“Sadly, and while doing all we can to support the majority of our hardworking and dedicated staff at this time, our necessary cost cutting has unfortunately seen us having to stand down some staff, and we very much look forward to those staff rejoining us when we return to on-campus learning.

“Cost-saving measures have also seen cuts to a range of college operations, and the deferral of some important projects.”

While some schools will reduce overall tuition fees on top of overall cost cutting in the upcoming term, others such as St Stephen’s School plan to offer fee relief of up to 10 per cent to families who make the request.

In a statement to Business News, principal Donella Beare said she understood the need to offer relief to families who had been economically affected in recent months.

“For families who may still be in a position to continue to pay the full amount, we are urging them to do so to further support the school community, however, the offer of help in this difficult time is there if needed on a pro rata basis for term two,” she said.

“We will also continue to work with those families who have been heavily affected on a case-by-case basis.

“We will work with them in confidence to come up with a personalised fee plan.”

The school’s offer to assist students on a case-by-case basis has been mirrored by Newman College, Methodist Ladies College, Penrhos College and Aquinas College.

Those have so far decided against reducing tuition fees overall.

In an email to parents earlier this month, Penrhos College principal Meg Melville said while she was aware other schools were reducing fees, the college had a responsibility to ensure its operational sustainability during the pandemic.

“This means adopting measures that match the financial circumstances of Penrhos, not those of other colleges,” she said.

“As a result, the college is not, at this stage, considering a general discount to tuition fees. “The college is exploring any available government support that it may be eligible for and will review its approach if significant support becomes available.”

Aquinas College principal David McFadden has echoed that sentiment.

Although Mr McFadden wrote in a letter to parents that all currently enrolled students would continue to be taught regardless of their financial circumstances, fees overall would not be reduced.

“We are well aware of the response to economic pressures by some independent schools,” Mr McFadden said.

“However, the majority of our costs are fixed, and it is the board’s responsibility to safeguard the integrity and sustainable future of Aquinas College.

“This means decisions need to be made in regard to the financial circumstances of Aquinas and not those of other colleges.”

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