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Some Victorian private schools are cutting fees as students prepare to do seven weeks of remote learning this term and possibly more in term four.
Kilvington Grammar School, a co-educational school in Ormond, and Goulburn Valley Grammar School in the COVID-hit regional centre of Shepparton have informed families they will cut prices.
Kilvington Grammar flagged an interim fee reduction last Wednesday.Credit:Penny Stephens
But retired principal Phil De Young said widespread discounts were unlikely because many term-four fees had already been issued, and he instead predicted no or low fee increases for 2022.
“Is remote learning costing schools less to do? The answer to that would be yes,” said Mr De Young, a former principal of Trinity Grammar and Carey Grammar.
“IT costs would be up, but their other costs – like buses, cleaning, camps – would be significantly down. Their expenses are lower, so should they be rebating some of that to parents? That’s up to schools.”
Mr De Young said while many parents agitated for fee cuts during Victoria’s long 2020 lockdown, there was an “element of resignation” this time and parents were also more satisfied with the quality of home learning.
“What I’m seeing is schools are working their butts off to keep remote learning going and I think parents are accepting that schools are doing it hard too,” he said.
Education consultant Paul O’Shannassy said many parents had questioned why they were not receiving discounts this term given students were missing key activities such as sport and music.
“Those that have already paid the fees have questioned why a credit couldn’t be facilitated for term one of next year,” he said.
Many Victorian private schools cut or deferred fees during Victoria’s COVID-19 crisis of 2020, and either froze or only slightly increased fees for this year. Those that lost 30 per cent or more of their revenue were also granted the federal government’s wage subsidy scheme, JobKeeper.
Mr De Young expects Victoria’s non-government schools, which educate 36 per cent of the state’s 1 million students, to again freeze or marginally increase annual fees.
“I would be expecting fee increases to be at the lower end of the scale,” he said.
Michelle Green, chief executive of Independent Schools Victoria, said schools had taken a range of actions to retain students during the pandemic, including fee discounts and deferrals.
“Measures vary widely, depending on the circumstances of individual schools and parents,” she said.
Ms Green said most schools were starting to look at their budgets for next year, and it was not yet clear how the pandemic was affecting parents’ capacity to pay.
The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria has encouraged families experiencing difficulties with fees to approach their schools.
“We don’t want to see any child miss out on a Catholic education because of their family’s financial circumstances,” said executive director Jim Miles.
Kilvington flagged an interim fee reduction last Wednesday, when Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be no return to face-to-face learning for Melbourne schools in term three as he extended lockdown restrictions. Term four starts for most schools on October 4.
Goulburn Valley Grammar School has also given families an immediate $500 rebate per student.
“This is to advise that the board has approved a fees rebate of $500 per student in 2021 and this will be applied to your school fees account today,” it told parents last week.
Some Victorian students have missed close to 150 days of face-to-face during the state’s six periods of remote learning since March 2020.
Under current restrictions, schools and early learning centres remain closed to all but vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.
Mr Andrews said he would detail plans for term four and regional schools this week.
An analysis of more than 100 non-government schools in Victoria found they increased fees for local year 12 students by an average of 0.4 per cent for 2021. This was the lowest fee rise across the country and well below the national average rise of 1.05 per cent.
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