What are my rights to withold school fees?...(261 Posts)
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.
It's been a while.
How are you getting on?
I've just posted a similar issue,what was the outcome of this? Did you have to pay fees in lieu of notice?
It's nearly new school year.
I was wondering if there was an update.
Messaged the OP a wee while ago but no reply....
Sorry for the delay in coming back on here...
Thank you for asking and for your concern. It's all been very much appreciated.
The top and bottom of the situation is that the matter went ot court on the 13th August 2012 after being put back from the beginning of July.
Basically I submitted evidence to the judge by way of:
The rude voicemail (which the head left) on a disk, a character reference (for me and my son), all correspondence between me and the Head and copies of the assesments my son completed upon joining his new school. Which gave evidence of his handwriting and that on speaking to the ISC and ISI they'd said there were reasons for concern.
The admissions form I had signed (believing it to be purely an admissions form) was deemed by the judge to be a contract.
As I think you were all aware, I had sent a cheque to cover the time my son was at the school (Sept -Oct half-term). I had been invoiced for the Autumn term, the Spring term and fees in lieu of notice... a total of £2600 + and the Head had added her court costs and interest, so the total was roughly £3400.00.
The Judge was very concerned that the complaints procedure had to be requested and was not automatically issued to parents. The Head explained that her reason for this was because of the sheer number of policies... but the Judge retorted that this must change as it's far too important a document and felt that as I was not clear on how to complain this had not helped my DS's situation.
The Judge asked me why I hadn't formally complained before withdrawing my DS and I explained that it was because I felt she had already made up her mind about my DS and that I had spoken directly to his class teacher and asked her to inform the head of my feelings.
The Head still maintained that she felt my DS 'could' be naughty and that it was not a label but a statement. She then said the following:
'There are some children that make her extremely cross and I will usually say, I don't like you today... but I will care about you forever'. To which I explained my son was too young to understand such a statement at that he'd have stopped listening after 'I don't like you today'.
Anyway, The judge ordered that I pay to the end of the term of which I removed my son... so I paid a cheque directly to the school 10 days later for
approx £ 1400.00.
As the Head had said during her voice message that 'There was a waiting list, and she could quite easily fill the place'. The Judge felt that the school had mitigated its loss at least from the the start of the new term.
I would have obviously have been happier if the school had simply banked the cheque I'd orginally sent (787.00) but it was discovered just days before the matter went to court that this cheque had apparently gone missing after the Head had forwarded it to a debt collection agency. So all the time I thought the Head was simply sitting on the cheque - it had gone missing. This was relayed to my solicitor but they hadn't told me!!!
I'm looking at the outcome as a victory and am just relieved to have the matter behind me. It had dragged on for almost a year.
I obviously have the solicitors to pay... although they did say the admissions form was definitely not a contract, they lost the disk with the voice recording on ( I luckily had a spare copy) and then as said didn't tell me that my cheque had apparently gone missing and that I'd been asked to issue a new cheque.
All comments on the final outcome will be very much welcomed and appreciated.
Just for added frustration... the 'missing' cheque arrived back in the post about a week after the court hearing... which I found a bit strange considering it was posted last December...
Just need to consider still taking the matter further to the ISI and ISC.
Once again, thanks to you all for your comments and support.
Don't they have the complaints procedure and all other policies on their website? I thought this was an ISI
requirement recommendation. It is not reasonable to issue parents with a full set of policies. The most up to date versions should be on the website and available in school.
The head should not have intimated that it was easy to fill a place. Those are the tactics of parents who are forever threatening to remove their children <yawn>.
Thank goodness the matter is now at an end!
Wishing your son much happiness at his new (or not so new now) school & you no more stress with snotty Headmistresses.
You were extremely lucky in some senses not to have to pay fees in lieu for the following term - so for you, that is certainly a result.
In terms of the school this will have given the head a wake up call and will hopefully lead to the school tightening up its procedures in terms of making things available to parents quickly and politely when requested - so another result.
In terms of complaining to ISI/ISC - to go back to the original point - you still have not made a formal complaint using the complaints procedure etc from what I can make out so they do not really have anything to look into. Perhaps a final mop up letter to the chairman of governors expressing your grave concerns about attitudes and so on copied to ISC/ISI might be the way to go if you want to go down that route. Now you have been to court there is little point complaining again!
By now you may have discovered that parents and children at private schools have no consumer rights at private schools. They can do anything they like and you still have to pay fees in lieu of notice which can mount to thousands of pounds. In 1972 two boys accused their headmaster of sexually molesting them. The police did not prosecute because of lack of evidence. The boys were at the private school under they government assist scheme and the school proceeded to sue the local council for fees in lieu of notice. The case went all the way to the Court of Appeal as lower courts gave the losing side on each judgement right to appeal. The famous Lord Denning in his judgement found for the school and in his summing up said it was alright for pupils to be made unhappy by staff or other children or for levels of education to go down. Since then no one has dared risk a few thousand pounds against hundreds of thousand of pounds on getting this judgement changed, you have to go all the way to the Court of Appeal to get it overruled. We were sued 16 years ago and although I was Chair of the PTA at the School, a governor at another private school, I did not know what
little rights parents/children had, neither did our solicitor until too late. We had a good case but could not afford the risk of fighting the case so settled out of court. Considering the case in 1972 was based on two boys allegely being sexually molested the result was amazing but in view of the Jim Saville allegations may be it is not. People did not always believe children at the time and I hate to say it was to some degree accepted. Look at all the recent cases at catholic schools against teaches and also various vicars, etc.
At the time I did a certain amount of research and came across a European Law that did not help us but was interesting in that you can not have a contract with has a financial clause/penalty which is only binding on one side, so could a parent sue a school if they child was expelled was fees in lieu of notice? Interesting idea.
Good luck. Finding the right school for your child is not easy but one thing I learnt is that unhappy children do not thrive in the wrong school, they need to be reasonably happy to work hard.