What are my rights to withold school fees?...

(261 Posts)
mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 15:25:43

Hi everyone,

I'll try and keep to the point with this very stressful and upsetting matter.

My son started at an independent school just after Easter. At this point he was 4. He turned 5 at the end of June.
We were due to move house (a move of just over 20 miles) so I decided on a school close to where we were going to and have now moved to. This was to try and ease any upheaval... as at least I hoped he'd remain at the same school despite moving house.

Upon enrollment the Headmistress advised that as the Easter term was short, and my son was a summer born boy, his progress would be monitored. She said that should he need a little more time to settle in he would continue after the summer hols in Reception and join year one after the October half term.

He settled in well. On the whole he's a very well behaved child and if anything he adapted well with the transition from nursery (free-play environment) to the more structured classroom environment.

At first things seemed fine, I found there to be small problems... little things... for example, letters home about uniform and important dates would name my son incorrectly... and I too would be addressed in-correctly (wrong surname and title). I dismissed these as felt they were minor.

As the summer hols approached I wasn't contacted as discussed by the head or my son's class teacher regarding his progress.
The head does have a reputation as quite formidable. Most parents find her very intimidating.
Instead of being contacted personally as I'd believed I would, I received a sheet of paper on the last day of term with a tick in the box telling me my son's progress was 'satisfactory'. This was not expanded upon.
I asked another parent with children in the same class... and apparently if you 'hadn't heard' it meant your child was going to start in year 1 after the holidays. I was pleased, as I felt my son must have met the required standard... in such a short term... and importantly it meant he could remain with his class mates.

After the (8 week) Summer holiday my son returned to school. After 3 days in, I found a compliment slip in his bag asking me to go into school as 'his behavior was causing reason for concern'. I was very shocked and worried... and wondered what on earth could he have done?

I arranged to see the headmistress the next morning. At the meeting (which the headmistress kept me waiting 20 minutes for) I was told my son had been sat 'twitching' at his table and 'fidgeting' with the contents of his pencil case.
I explained that this was very out of character... (usually if asked to stop, would) and perhaps as the holidays had been very long (as long as the Spring term) to maybe give him a few more days to settle in.
I was then completely shocked when the headmistress turned to me and said... 'Surely you know you have a naughty boy?' to which I replied dumbstruck ... 'Well, actually, he's relatively good at home... and has his moments... like most children' to which I got 'Oh, so he's an Angel at home and a terror here'... well his attitude has to change or you're wasting your money'!!! I did my best to remain composed and then re-iterated we were also moving house (upheaval, leaving his friends made since birth etc) and to bare this in mind and offer him additional support.

I am a lone parent and cannot say how much this shocked and hurt me to hear. Once I'd left the meeting, I went out to my car and sat and cried. Despite this, I felt I had to give the teacher and headmistress the benefit of the doubt, present a united front and had a chat with my son after school... explaining the importance of listening and learning at school.

From here, things went from bad to worse...
My son had started school being able to hold a pencil correctly but somehow now could barely do this? He was struggling to keep up too. As a result he was kept in a break times and part of the lunch hour and set extra work to do at home which I gladly did with him.

I received another note: Saying Griff's homework hadn't been done... but it had as I'd done it with him. I explained I knew it had definitely been completed as we'd had to use a blue pencil crayon (not ideal) and then the teacher sent a note saying 'It's turned up, 'my son' had hidden it at the bottom of the marking pile'. This is not something he would do... I seriously mean that... if anything he'd have to be told where to put the homework.

Then, about a week later, one morning whilst he was getting himself dressed for school he burst into tears... saying ' Please tell Mrs * (the head) I can dress myself Mummy!'. I couldn't believe how upset he was... and asked whatever had happened. He said he'd been dressing after P.E. the day before and the head had asked him if he dressed himself at home... on saying yes, she had replied with 'I don't believe you'. I can imagine he was probably dressing a little slowly... but he is only 5! I was not happy about him being demeaned.

By now I felt extremely unhappy and guilty in sending my son to school as he was clearly very unhappy... especially as the school seemed in no way to take any of the facts about our house move into consideration.

The final straw was my son being refused to go to the toilet after raising his hand and asking. As a result he wet himself in class and had to change into his P.E. shorts. I was humiliated and embarrassed and I out raged.

By this point we had reached October half term and I had to come to a decision... the last thing I wanted to do was create more upheaval. We had only been in our new home just over a week.
I felt I had no choice but to withdraw him from the school with immediate effect on the grounds that I felt he wasn't being treated or cared for properly.

I wrote to the headmistress explaining my reasons... to which she didn't acknowledge my letter but left a very rude answerphone message. I again wrote to her (going into more detail) to which again she replied very rudely, insulting me, saying I was rude and that I was being unfair to my son in removing him from the school and that he should have completed the term. She also said she felt I had written my letter of complaint to simply 'get out of paying the fees' and that she believes I cannot afford the fees'.
With regard to my son staying on, I was afraid of how he would be treated if he stayed, as they didn't seem to care about him before I'd raised my concerns.
With regard to affording the fees, the headmistress is not aware my son is now blissfully happy at another Independent fee paying school.

So, going back to my point about payment... I had been paying the school fees by direct debit each month... until September, where because I wasn't happy I put a stop on the DD. I withdrew my son at Oct half term... and was prepared to pay for Sept and Oct.

I am trying to look at this matter in a 'matter of fact' way which is:
'If you are unhappy with a service, do you pay for it?'
As I am extremely upset at the way my child has been treated and am unhappy with the standard of the education too, I am close to complaining to the ISC and Ofsted.

As a result of withholding payment, the headmistress has already
consulted a debt collection agency who are not only asking for the fees up to the end of term for which my son was withdrawn half-way (winter term) but she has also invoiced me for the Spring term of next year too.

I feel the school has failed my son and we have both been treated in a despicable manner. I would be very grateful for any advice and support.

Thank you in advance.

Wigeon Tue 27-Dec-11 15:34:30

I would think that somewhere in the paperwork that the school has given you there are some terms and conditions saying what the notice period is should you wish to withdraw your child from the school - eg 1 term's notice or 2 terms' notice, and that by sending your child to the school you are agreeing to these conditions. Have you complied with whatever notice period is required? If not, then I would think the school was within its rights to insist on you paying the fees you owe for the period you should have given notice for.

The way in which you feel the school has failed your son is probably completely irrelevant.

Citizen's Advice Bureau would probably be very helpful for specific advice about your rights.

<disclaimer - am not a lawyer!>

Fairytightsonmychristmastree Tue 27-Dec-11 15:45:11

Most independent schools have it written into their contract would have signed upon acceptance of an offered place (and probably when you paid your deposit not the registration fee), that you HAVE to give a full terms notice to withdraw your child. This would mean you would be liable for the autumn and spring term fees, unfortunately.

The fact you withdrew your son at around half term is irrelevant sadly. They have you over a barrel with this if you signed the paperwork, regardless of how they treated your son.

You need to refer to your original paperworkfor when you signed your son up at the school.

catsareevil Tue 27-Dec-11 15:45:36

You seem to have given your DS name in the OP - did you mean to?

What was the wording of the contract you signed? Could you argue that they breached their side of it?

baubleybobbityhat Tue 27-Dec-11 15:48:13

Too long for me, sorry.

duchesse Tue 27-Dec-11 15:48:55

Head sounds like a sociopath tbh and you and your little boy are well out of there. It may even be worth the term's fees. It sounds though as though this Head is a complete bully- bullies more often than not back down when confronted. Document everything (with dates if you can remember them, any paperwork etc), including meetings and off-the cuff remarks.

Write a withdrawal letter, date it October 15th or whatever, and send it to her with a covering note saying "Since it appears you did not receive my first withdrawal letter, I am sending a copy." You almost certainly are contractually held to paying the term's fees but any idiot would realise that once a child has been withdrawn mid-term they are unlikely to be back. That said, this woman sounds like a bully who will try anything. I would not pay and sit back and wait- I would imagine the school will go down the pan quite soon (desperation in her words as you report them) taking your debt with it. Hold on to all the documentation nonetheless. You may need it.

If the school has a governing body, you could seek advice from them, or from any organisation they belong to (are they ofsteded or do they get inspections from ISIS?)

exexpat Tue 27-Dec-11 15:53:13

Unfortunately most schools do have a clause in their contract which obliges you to give a full term's notice before withdrawing a child, or pay the fees in lieu of notice. And in your case, since you withdrew him half-way through the autumn term, that would mean paying up until Easter next year.

Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, schools and parents can come to an agreement about a shorter notice period, but it doesn't sound like you have the kind of relationship with the head which would make it easy to come to a mutually agreed compromise - but possibly worth offering to pay for November/December as well?

Otherwise they will probably take you to court, and on the basis of the contract, would probably win. That might give you an opportunity to voice your reasons for not paying, and the school might not want any adverse publicity - but you may not want to risk a county court judgement against you either (not good for your credit record).

SouthGoingZax Tue 27-Dec-11 15:54:28

You should pay for the time he was at the school.
I think you should fight to not have to pay any 'not enough notice for taking him out of school' on the basis of your serious concerns about their lack of professionalism and his welfare.'

Contact the head of the governing body - by letter and be very clear about what exactly your concerns are.

What a fucking bitch and what a crap school. I have a nearly 5yo and can relate to a lot of what you say. He is being a child, not naughty. My DS's school deals with it just fine. Hopefully the new one you have sent your DS to will do. the wetting himself & the homework thing make me want to slap her. Oh and I'd defintely mention to her that your DS is now at another fee-paying school where the staff is more adept at dealing with young children and the pastoral care and communication is more effective (which I hope is the case)

MrsCampbellBlack Tue 27-Dec-11 15:58:40

This sounds most odd.

You could try contacting ISI or write a letter to the Governors.

ReduceRecycleRegift Tue 27-Dec-11 16:07:52

what a terrible school

however I suspect its like most contracts (tennancies etc) where if the other side are not meeting their obligations it doesn't exempt you from your side. Like if a land lord is not meeting his/her side of the lease, the tennant has the right to enforce the contract on them but does not have the right to withhold rent, if they withold rent the landlord can still use the contract in respect of that, their own lack of compliance is a separate issue IYKWIM

I would have given notice, taken my child out immediately, written off the notice period fees, and taken my complaints further

bamboostalks Tue 27-Dec-11 16:15:38

What is the name of the school?

FlyingStart Tue 27-Dec-11 16:16:50

Pay the autumn 2011 fees in full and inform the school that you refuse to pay the Spring term fees as your child is no longer at the school as you effectively gave 2 months notice when you withdrew your child from the school back in October 2011. It is fairly obvious that you had no intention of returning to the school again and it's not your fault if the school lost your letter of withdrawal.

If you pay the autumn term 2011 fees in full and forfeit your deposit (to cover Spring term 2012) it is unlikely the school will chase you to the courts.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 16:18:54

Did she actually put in writing the bit about thinking you can't afford the school fees??

If so then perhaps you have a card which you can use against her for her unprofessional conduct which will give you leverage to make the school waive the fees that you would have been expected to pay because of the contract. My dd goes to a school where you have to give a term's notice to withdraw the child.

Just a thought.........the school needs complaining about in any event. Just because it's a private school does not mean that they can do as they like unchecked - this sounds horrific!

MrsCampbellBlack Tue 27-Dec-11 16:27:44

Oh and you really shouldn't have cancelled paying in sept/oct - to be honest if I was the head that would have made me a little suspicious of your intentions.

EdithWeston Tue 27-Dec-11 16:31:42

Will you be able to show that you used the school's grievance procedure for each and every one of the complaints you have?

If not, and the first time you made a formal complaint was whilst you were attempting to decline paying for the contractual notice period, then you are almost certainly going to lose in court. Schools do litigate over this, and they do win.

Only start this fight if you can afford the consequences of losing.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 16:46:21

What I would do is to pay the Autumn 2011 fees in full and write a letter to the school outlining all the greivances you have and also refer to the unprofessional behaviour of the head. You could say that your son was under psychological duress and that you had not anticipated this would happen but in the event you had no choice but to withdraw him without the notice period.

PeaceofCakeAndGoodWineToAllMN Tue 27-Dec-11 16:46:59

Sounds very tricky. The schools have an agreement with each other that a child can not start if their parents owe fees to the last school so you do need to be very careful. The usual notice period is a full term, which is a problem if you give notice a few weeks into the term as it will mean that you have to pay for the rest of one term, and then another. You could try finding a contract lawyer and seeking their advice. I'm sure other parents have tried to use below standard care of their child as a reason to withold the fees. It is dodgy ground though. I'd make some arrangement to pay in all honesty, at least until you can get some legal advice.

I did this with a GDST school, I got taken to court and although the judge sympathised with me , I did have to pay a terms fees. I didn't have to pay any costs or interest though and he called the headmistress arrogant. This gave me a tiny bit of satisfaction.

teddyandsheep Tue 27-Dec-11 17:05:45

Please name the school.... Sounds awful. Write to the Chair of the Board of Governers. don't get emotional in your letter, but be clear about how disappointed you are.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 17:08:16

Hi Thanks for taking the time to leave me a message.
Yes, she did put in writing...
Her words towards the end of her letter being:
''Finally, I feel the reason for your removal of (Ref to DS) is financial. You owe (school name) a large sum of money''.
She then goes on to say:
''When you moved you would have a large choice of schools which are obviously non fee paying schools' and mentions the Nursery Vouchers (which were deducted off the first terms fees as my DS was only 4).
Her letter continues:
''When 'DS' was in Reception he received Nursery Vouchers. You were only paying £*. This went up to £* in September. You obviously could not afford this''.

I would also contact schools inspectorate and social services if you feel that the concerns are very serious. It will take a while to sort this out and it took two years for my dd's old school to take me to court. I moved her in the meantime and there was no problem with new school knowing about the fees situation.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 17:09:55

Sorry, I'm new to this!
The above message was aimed at ''perceptionreality''

That letter is outrageously unprofessional from the headteacher.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 17:12:38

@ Toughasoldboots... Thanks yes, the new school have been fine about the situation with the fees too. I'm just happy that my son now loves school.

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