Challenging term's fees in lieu of notice - any point?

(10 Posts)
eeyoresgrumpierfriend Sun 15-May-16 11:56:13

We have been very unhappy with DD's prep school.

Long story but they have admitted that whilst they believe she is very bright she has fallen behind and needs extra support to catch up (not SN - essentially they have just let her mess about and now need to crack the whip a bit to catch her back up). At the end of last term they said this would be implemented this term. It hasn't been and they now say they don't have the resources to do it at all.

She is in yr 2 and by the point all this came up we were too late to do the 7+. Current school only goes to yr 3 and the Head even mentioned at one point that we didn't really have any choice but to trust that they would sort it out next year as it would be very difficult to find her a place elsewhere now.

Being cynical, I am pretty sure they deliberately sat on the problem as long as possible to engineer a position where we had no choice but to stick with them.

Thankfully, we have managed to find her a place at another school which will offer her the support she needs, but moving her now is not ideal either as her confidence is already very low and we are worried leaving her friends may make this worse.

New school are being very nice and have given us a few weeks to mull over the decision. We have kept her current school fully informed and had even scheduled another meeting with the head to discuss the various pros and cons of moving v staying.

Yesterday they sent us a very shirty e-mail informing us that we needed to tell them 'immediately' of our decision as they have children on their waiting list who would like her place for September. Fine. Then they also 'remind' us that as we have not given enough notice we will have to pay September's fees anyway.

I do understand that this is completely standard for independent schools but, remember from my law school days, that damages need to be a genuine pre-estimate of financial loss. If I need to decide now so they can get the paperwork sorted out for her replacement, then what is their loss? If I pay they get two sets of fees next term.

Given how sneaky they have been with the timing of giving us bad news and how poorly they have served my DD it rankles to see them financially benefit from this. On the other hand, I'm worried that if I take them to task over it, it might have repercussions down the line as I imagine the local school heads are all pretty chummy.

Anyone with any experience of this?

P.S - thanks if you read all of that.

Ladymuck Sun 15-May-16 14:50:55

I suspect that your contract clearly states that a full term's notice is required, and so legally you are liable to pay. You have explicitly agreed to the terms, which are common to the majority of independent schools.

However if the school only goes to year 3, and they have someone lined up to join for September, then you may have a little negotiating room. You could give notice for December, on the grounds that as you are paying for the term she may as well stay, but if the school were able to waive the term's fees then you would leave at the end of this term. The school would probably not be able to fill your dd's place for just 2 remaining terms, but if there was someone willing to come for one year then they might waive your one term fee in order to get someone else's 3 terms.

eeyoresgrumpierfriend Sun 15-May-16 15:39:34

Thanks, yes that might work as a negotiating position.

Whilst I realise I signed up to this and it is a common term in school contracts, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm bound by it.

There is a whole framework of statute and case law that governs whether a contract term is enforceable or not. One of which states that a financial payment of this type is only enforceable if it is a genuine estimate of loss. If they get another child in straight away there is no loss, save for some slight extra admin which would be amply paid for by the retention of my hefty deposit.

There was some guidance from the OFT to the same effect.

I am a lawyer so am happy my analysis is right and I'd win were it to come to that.

My question is, will taking that line screw us later down the line via the local school head network.

AveEldon Sun 15-May-16 15:50:11

I wouldn't worry about the local school head network as they won't be suffering a financial loss

Remind them that they promised additional help which they failed to deliver and they are failing your child.

Ladymuck Sun 15-May-16 16:14:58

Well, it will come up on every reference requested, so if you are staying in the independent sector, it might be an issue. But usually a reference is only requested from the current school, so if the school you are moving to are happy with your interpretation of terms, you should be OK. Usually the question of whether all fees are up to date is the only question that really matters on a reference, and I've known schools to refuse to provide a reference until the fees in lieu of notice have been paid, even though they shouldn't be payable until the start of the relevant term (which feels unduly aggressive, but nevertheless does happen).

In terms of the legal liability, it will of course depend to an extent on whether the school can fill the place or not. The school's waiting list might be quite old now, and a place for just year 3 may not be as sought after as one in year 1 or 2 would have been, especially if those on the waiting list have a similar notice issue. If it can be filled, then you have clear negotiating power. If not, then your legal defence won't be secure.

eeyoresgrumpierfriend Sun 15-May-16 17:22:49

Thanks. I should have said whilst current school ends at yr 3 there is a linked school they move on to that runs until yr 8 so places are still quite in demand

Namehanger Sun 15-May-16 22:05:42

When we left our private school without requisite notice the new school said that they would only offer the place if the old one confirmed that we had paid all fees.

So I think the private school network might stuff you!

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 15-May-16 23:38:47

We discussed a situation that had arisen when DS1 was at a private school with the Head, who told us to leave it with him and he'd 'sort something out.' We made it clear that we were condidering tsking him out - in fact, he wanted to move. This was well before the Easter holidays. No sorting out was done by the Head or anyone else who could have smoothed the sutuation over.
We informed the bursar in our withdrawal letter that, in spite of our being promised some assisrance with persuading DS to stay, at a time when we would not have been liable for the next term's fees, the opportunity had been missed and DS was still unhappy. We simply stated that we did not consider oursrlves liable fir this payment since the Head ha d not done what he'd promised to do. No further action was taken.
I think they're taking the piss tbh. They've admitted they can't do the things they told you were becessary for your child to catch up; they haven't fulfilled their side of the contract, thus voiding it surely?
We weren't moving DS to a private school so can't comment on the closed shop effect.
Sorry about typos, am in bed!

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 15-May-16 23:44:42

I'm aure you know this already, but the thing to do is not to 'challenge' their claim, but to send a charming letter blaming no one but stating how sad you are that you've been forced to move your child because (insert nice way of describing their incompetence), so you're sure they'll agree that there is no dent to pay.
I fucking loved writing that letter, and seeing the sideways glance from the deputy head in the playground afterwards was priceless. You could see the cogs in brain struggling to understand what just hapened!

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 15-May-16 23:45:04

In his brain.

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