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.

Pastmum Sun 21-Oct-12 15:29:52

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.

dramafluff Tue 09-Oct-12 09:35:12

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!

Mutteroo Wed 03-Oct-12 12:27:21

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. smile

Knowsabitabouteducation Mon 01-Oct-12 21:40:49

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>.

mummytippy Mon 01-Oct-12 21:31:52

Hello Everyone,

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.

dramafluff Fri 31-Aug-12 08:49:53

Messaged the OP a wee while ago but no reply....

EdithWeston Sun 26-Aug-12 06:05:44

It's nearly new school year.

I was wondering if there was an update.

Brillo2003 Tue 03-Jul-12 22:35:38

Hi

I've just posted a similar issue,what was the outcome of this? Did you have to pay fees in lieu of notice?

EdithWeston Tue 26-Jun-12 22:10:00

It's been a while.

How are you getting on?

dramafluff Tue 29-May-12 16:53:59

just giving this a bump

EdithWeston Sat 05-May-12 19:53:41

OP: how is it going?

mumat39 Tue 17-Apr-12 22:10:43

So was I.

Mummytippy, hope all's ok with you.

EdithWeston Tue 17-Apr-12 17:10:47

I was wondering if there was an update?

marcopront Mon 19-Mar-12 16:11:07

When did you send the cheque?

You started this thread on the 28th December and posted until the 29th December. On the 16th January you "stated since I last posted, I have sent a cheque" but on the 20th January you refer to sending the cheque on the 19th December.

Also if they had a waiting list, why did three children start after your one son left? If they increased the class size to 25, unless it was from 23 with your son, then they still have lost out.

mumat39 Mon 19-Mar-12 00:12:54

Hello Mummytippy

I'm really surprised that the school asked the parents of the bullied child to speak to the bully. I would have thought schools would deal with both sets of parents separately as it's their job to manage this situation and to reassure the parents of the bullied child and to work with the parents of the bully to try and resolve why their child is like this.

Seems most odd and I'm pleased for you and your DS that he is no longer under the care of the dragon lady. Good Luck (again) I'm still keeping everything crossed that you win this case. I also hope that your DS is continuing to enjoy life at his new school.

Take care

dramafluff Tue 13-Mar-12 15:21:19

Not really - completely separate issue - except to say I would have expected them to contact the other child's parents first to agree it. Might be worth starting a new thread under bullying on that one.

On the costs front - yes, up to judgement it is indeed a fixed fee which will get added and statutory interest. If things go on from there (but that would be after they managed - if they managed - to get judgement and were planning to enforce) then there would be possible on costs. (Thinking stat. costs, not solicitors' costs).

From the school's point of view, even if they are in a scheme for fee recovery once it gets to the stage of a defended action this may well be considered off scheme and so will indeed be costing them money. They may be willing to spend up to what you owe then in order to 'make a point' (I am not saying that is right, just that this happens).

You may find that this will get to court (they do not sound like the sort to back down) and that a settlement will be attempted between you just before the actual hearing. What you choose to do there you would do well to take advice from your solicitor before the agreed fee is used up. Who knows what might happen if you and they end up in front of the judge who will look dispassionately at the legal aspects only.

Keep us posted!

mummytippy Mon 12-Mar-12 11:53:29

@Chaz... I see, thank you.
Just replying to my solicitor (spoke to him on the phone too this morn) and am going to ask him to reply to the schools solicitor asking the school to respond properly to my grievances instead of simply pursuing me for money!

Incidently, I saw a parent of a child yesterday (play date for her son and mine) who's child is in my ds's old class and she that her son has been having a problem with another child bullying him. It's been going on for about 2 months. She had been in for a meeting with the head and as a result the bully had merit points deducted from him and was told to stay away from her son.
The bullying has continued, and whilst she was in school the other day she asked to speak to the head again about the matter as little had improved.
After a few moments of talking with my friend, the head, called for the child in question (the bully) and asked my friend to talk to him and express her feelings. My friend said she felt very awkward and was given little choice. The boy got upset and and cried and she ended up feeling bad. Her words to me were that had it been the other way around, and had the boys (bullys) mother been asked to speak to her son, she would have been angry. She feels it was not her place to 'speak' to the boy but didn't say how she felt to the head. The head simply said afterwards that she will now be inviting the boy's (bully) parents in to talk about things... Any views on this?

Mummytippy no I was just addressing the costs issue as I didn't think costs were something you had to worry about if you were on the small claims track.

mummytippy Sat 10-Mar-12 11:34:47

@ Chaz... Do you mean I've a slim chance?
@Messalina... I think I've waited long enough without contacting any of the educational bodies... thanks for pointing out it's the Early Years Foundation Stage which is relevant.
Thank you

messalina Fri 09-Mar-12 22:55:56

You could report the school to ISI or as it's about the EYFS years to Ofsted too. Utterly unacceptable.

arggh won not one

mummytippy Fri 09-Mar-12 21:33:34

Thanks for your massages.
My solicitor said that as it's a case which would be dealt with by the
small claims court I won't incur any more costs.
As it is, my solicitor very kindly offered me a 'capped fee' up to a certain point and in view of this has advised me that if it should come to it, I'm capable of representing myself in court.

dramafluff - I didn't think that that the school could pass on their costs if they one because this case will be on the small claims track (under £5000) and you are only allowed to claim very limted costs.

dramafluff Fri 09-Mar-12 15:35:12

I don't think there is anything else you can do at this stage until you have a categoric rejection of your terms. Bear in mind if it goes to court and you lose, the school will not necessarily have incurred any legal costs - they will be passed on to you plus statutory interest to judgement date.

mummytippy Fri 09-Mar-12 12:36:41

Hi there,

Sorry... I've had so much on I feel I've neglected the post.

My solicitor initially asked the school's solicitor to forward a copy of the contract which the school haven't yet done (It would seem the two lines quoted on the invoice stand for a contract).

He also asked them to bank my cheque... which they confirmed they wouldn't do as they were not accepting this amount was all that's due from me. Further to this, my solicitor advised me to ask them to again bank the cheque on the grounds that I was in agreement that I owed at least that part... (cheque covered the time my ds attended the school which would 'remove' the full and final settlement clause.

I've spoken to my solicitor again today and 'reading between the lines' he says the school's solicitor is in agreement with him and feels exasperated that they have not negotiated and accepted my cheque as full and final settlement.
The school has now in fact ignored his advice.
His update from the school was that they are happy to bank the cheque and accept £100 per month installments to clear the balance!!!

He feels they are simply not listening to him, despite him emphasising there's nothing to gain... by the time the school's incurred the court costs (if it goes to trial) which will be around £1500.00 to 2000.00 it's getting close to what they're demanding from me (£2600.00).

My solicitor (without needing to) has asked the school's solicitor to go back to them and again tell them to bank the cheque. I've asked him to stress the importance that I am strongly contesting the notice period and believe therefore there is not a 'balance'
(in view of the circumstances, treatment of ds).

My solicitor feels that the head is still trying to bully me into submission and he is therefore advising me to continue as I have nothing to lose.
The facts of the matter on the head/school's side is they have taken three more children into my ds old class... so she has more than mitigated her loss.

My solicitor has an acquisition questionnaire which he'll be completing next week and he's going to push for mediation to see if we can come to an agreement.

After that... depending on the outcome... I may well have to represent myself in court.

I think it's maybe time (and my solicitor said I'm okay) to write to Ofsted, and the Independent schools council.

I feel sick to the pit of my stomach and can't say how much I want this sorry chapter behind me. I simply cannot believe that anyone can deny their appalling treatment of a child to the point where they even continue to threaten legal action.

Any further advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

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