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.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:14:02

@perceptionreality...
Thank you for helping me to feel positive about such a dire situation.
All I wanted was what I thought was the best for my DS and have ended up being what feels like 'singled-out' as a consequence.
She even wrote (because of the house move?)
''I feel we are getting the blame for(ref to DS) not wanting to come to school but often when children don't want to come to school it is due to problems at home. I feel this is the case with Griff''.

Catslikehats Tue 27-Dec-11 18:14:44

OP you are mad to pursue this.

You are reacting emotionally: you are offended by your perceived ill treatment and letting your heart rule your head. In short you are an unscrupulous lawyers dream client (and I am not lawyer bashing I'm one myself).

Take a step back and a deep breath and consider whether you really want to throw good money after bad. You could double your debt to the school in no time, and for what? Because you are upset that the head was a bitch.

It just makes no sense.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:20:44

@Queenofdenial... Thanks for you post...
I appreciate your comments and would be lying if I said I wasn't affected emotionally. I have already taken a deep breath and that's why I'm asking for other people's input.
I realise I am going to have to pay some money... but should a headmistress, a person supposedly in such a high position be allowed to treat a child and parent in such a way?

Catslikehats Tue 27-Dec-11 18:33:38

You need to separate your feelings regarding the head mistress ill treatment/rudeness of your DS/you and the payment of school fees. I am afraid the two issues are mutually exclusive.

Consider it this way: Your interpretation of the heads treatment seems to be that she believes you are "beneath her": she thinks you can't afford the school and she has no problem in being both dismissive and condescending towards you so don't give her the satisfaction of proving her assumptions about you correct.

Send her a cheque for the full amount and forget about the matter.

Or engage in a legal battle and end up paying her; the debt collectors and a solicitor and to add insult to injury watch her satisfaction grow as she realise she was "right" about you all along.

MollieO Tue 27-Dec-11 18:35:45

I would have expected the head to apologise for keeping you waiting but I assume she was on playground duty and had forgotten when she arranged the meeting with you.

I didn't realise the class teacher was there too. What did she say?

I agree that you have to keep emotions out of this. I would also counsel against instructing a solicitor. I'd only do this if the school commences proceeedings against you and even then I'd think twice. If the school pursue you for fees it will be a small claims court action. They tend to be sympathetic of litigants in person.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:43:09

I can see where you are coming from...
and as you pointed out, you are indeed a Lawyer.
I actually pity the head and really don't care what she thinks about me.
I certainly do not want to give her any satisfaction... but surely even after removing emotion, the facts are there that the school has failed my son on both on an education and caring level.
I simply want a just result and it it seems that her conduct has been unprofessional and the school far from meeting my expectations.
I will certainly be informing all the relevant educational bodies.
I would hate this to happen to another child.

teddyandsheep Tue 27-Dec-11 18:50:11

I agree with Queen. However, I would in your situation be writing to the Chair of the Board of Governers, in a very professional, non emotional way concerning the running of the school.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:51:47

@MollieO...

There are playground monitors... the heads job is to blow the whistle at 9.10am for the start of the school day... I guess she felt she needed to go down there at 8.45am?

Thank you for your advice regarding a solicitor... It's more a case of what has been allowed to happen to my son and the sheer unjustness of it all.

Everything has been documented.
I'm strongly considering sending a cheque only covering the time my son was there (Sept & Oct) and wording the letter along the lines... on clearance of this cheque you accept this as full and final settlement...?

Catslikehats Tue 27-Dec-11 18:56:38

Just to add, whilst I am a lawyer I know absolutely nothing about education law and have only a passing acquaintance with contracts so my advice is from a practical rather than professional standpoint.

There will of course be numerous lawyers who can give you proper professional advice. Factor in spending £400 per hour + vat. An therein lies your problem.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:57:46

@teddyandsheep... thank you...

I really don't want to throw good money after bad and agree... that a solicitor could see such a case as a blank cheque.
I'm hoping MollieO is right in that should it go to the small claims court this case would be looked at sympathetically.
I strongly agree that the governors need to know how the school is being run... and will also be writing to the IS and Ofsted.

serin Tue 27-Dec-11 19:00:09

I don't understand, if you agreed to pay for something and signed a contract then surely that is legally binding?

You should listen to the advice of the lawyer above and fulfill your side of the contract for your own sake (otherwise you are going to end uppaying a hell of a lot more to her).

The head sounds a nightmare and I would also complain about her to their regulatory authority.

MollieO Tue 27-Dec-11 19:01:33

Unless he is in Reception or there were issues in Reception then Ofsted will not be interested. They are not responsible for regulating private schools but are for Early Years - so govern nursery and reception of private schools.

serin Tue 27-Dec-11 19:01:59

x post there oops!

EdithWeston Tue 27-Dec-11 19:02:10

Mummytippy: what does the school's grievance policy say? Have you followed it? Because without that, a counter action is unlikely to succeed.

And I am worried that you will find yourself in a tricky (and expensive) position if you cannot demonstrate you have sought remedy within the grievance procedure for any perceived educational or pastoral failings.

As grievance procedures for independent schools typically escalate through layers of school management and governors, then go to relevant inspecting body.

If you are only now thinking of informing inspectors, this strongly suggests you did not exhaust all other avenues of redress before ceasing to pay.

Some of OP is describing the unsupported word of your DC: what will matter to the courts is how the school handled the complaint and why in the space of a mere half-term (and without, apparently, exhausting the grievance procedure) the situation became in your view irremediable.

I really do not think you stand much chance of winning a counter suit. Especially given the timing when you ceased paying (without explanation?). The Head's lack of interpersonal skills won't to be relevant.

Did the contract with the school specify a full term's notice? If so, you are liable for fees until the end of the spring term. The speed at which the school has moved to enforcement shows they mean business.

Are you really sure you want to get into this? It'll be about procedure and contract, not anyone's emotion, demeanour or manners.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 19:02:40

@MollieO...

Sorry you asked me what the class teacher said in the meeting...
Well, not too much...
the headmistress did most of the talking... even adding that at story time (held in the hall after school at 'pick-up' time) she had deducted merit points from him for fidgeting. This had nothing to do with his class behavior.

teddyandsheep Tue 27-Dec-11 19:04:19

Please have a look at the contract you signed when you agreed for your dc to attend the school. It is important that you understand what the contractural rights are of the school are and if there are any circumstances where a months notice is not necessary

PeaceofCakeAndGoodWineToAllMN Tue 27-Dec-11 19:05:19

You could plead poverty and ask if they have managed to fill your child's space.

I would pay though, then report them to Ofsted/ISI. There are some really dire private schools out there.

EdithWeston Tue 27-Dec-11 19:06:21

MollieO: some independent schools opt to be inspected by OFSTED at all stages. So it might be an appropriate organisation to approach. But this would already have been done if the standards grievance procedures had been followed through all stages. If the grievance has been upheld, then no need to com pain again. If rejected, a second go won't make much difference. And if OP is trying to make a case without having gone through the full grievance procedure, then she is on thin ice.

pickledsiblings Tue 27-Dec-11 19:11:58

I agree with Queen that you should pay up to be beyond reproach and then by all means kick up a stink in the nicest possible way...you could start by naming and shaming. You are right though about paying for poor service, galling, isn't it. So sorry that you are going through this.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 19:21:55

@EdithWeston...
Sorry, I lost my internet connection...
Believe it or not, I don't have a copy of the school's grievance policy...

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 19:22:42

Is it too late for me to take that route... once I find out how to go about it?
Many Thanks.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 19:26:08

@Serin...
I agree with paying for a service you've signed up to too... as long as they keep their side of the bargain, which in this case the school has fallen very short.

pickledsiblings Tue 27-Dec-11 19:26:20

mummytippy, policy documents are often available on school websites.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 19:31:00

@pickledsiblings... Thank you for taking the time to respond...
Paying up to the point my son left is what I think I'm prepared to do...
I try to look at things from both sides... but sometimes the outside view is what is required... as you become blinded by everything...
If I was the headmistress... I would know how I'd treated the child and the parent and would be happy to get paid for the time the child was present at the school.

ReduceRecycleRegift Tue 27-Dec-11 19:35:59

at this point it depends on whether you want this to go down in the books as being about you not paying, or about the school's horrible treatment of your child and possibly others. If you are unwilling or unable to let the money go it'll never go down as the child who had to leave because of bad treatment.

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