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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 17:14:47

@ toughasoldboots... Isn't it.
I couldn't believe it when I read it. Very personal and based on many unfounded assumptions in my view.

Catslikehats Tue 27-Dec-11 17:16:53

Have you posted about this before? Not that it matters but someone posted recently with an almost identical issue and was told pretty unanimously (IIRC) that they would have to pay the fees for both terms.

The issue is that an alleged breach on their side, even if proven, is unlikely to negate your side of the contract. Therefore regardless of the "service" you need to pay.

Further most independent schools have a clause which requires "one full terms notice". Your full terms notice would commence at the begining of the winter term, making you liable until the end of the winter term.

Frankly you are fortunate that your DS is as young as he is, which is presumably teh only reason that the new school has not sought a reference from the old school. It is virtually impossible to move from one independent school to another where there are fees outstanding.

Toughasoldboots Tue 27-Dec-11 17:17:00

It could well work in your favour in the end though- you are well out of it.

unreasonablemuch Tue 27-Dec-11 17:18:18

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:18:27

It's outrageous indeed that she would put something like that in writing.

What I do know is that most professionals will try to avoid their reputation being brought into disrepute and that on that basis - consider who you could complain to about her and think about how you could potentially use this incident as a way to avoid paying the Spring 2012 fees. I am not sure if it's possible but is something to consider. She sounds beyond arrogant!

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:19:06

In any case why is she writing to you about fees? That's usually the job of the bursar........

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:21:01

Does the school have governors or trustees that you could complain to?

MrsCampbellBlack Tue 27-Dec-11 17:25:38

I really think you've shot yourself in the foot so to speak though by not paying the direct debits for sept/oct before you removed your child.

Thats why the head is going to be questioning if you could afford the fees.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:30:30

Whether the fees were paid or not it is completely inappropriate for the head to speculate in a letter about the OP's circumstances or make personal comments.

Catslikehats Tue 27-Dec-11 17:33:48

Of course it is inappropriate to speculate as to her circumstances.

It is also inappropriate to try to avoid a contractual obligation.

MrsCampbellBlack Tue 27-Dec-11 17:34:39

To be honest I find this all very odd - I just can't imagine a head doing this.

But I do think the OP will end up having to pay the fees and she was wrong to stop the DD.

But again in private schools I know were you can do DD's - its for the next term so as to avoid parents doing this - fees are normally payable in advance aren't they?

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:37:52

Yes but the head is the one with a reputation to protect - the op has had an emotional reponse to what she sees as awful treatment of her son from an establishment that she paid to school and take care of him. The two things are not the same at all. A head should never appear to behave disrespectfully whatever has gone on. It's not really surprising that the OP feels agrieved enough not to want to pay the fees even though she might have to because of the contract.

EdithWeston Tue 27-Dec-11 17:38:21

It ay indeed be inappropriate, but it won't be enough to overturn the need for OP to pay the fees in line with the contract.

She stopped paying in September and took her DC out without notice in October. There were no problems with the school before this term. And no sign that OP used the grievance procedure. The school is already talking in terms of enforcement action, so a negotiated compromise seems unlikely.

OP will need to pay up, to the end of the contractual period (end Easter term) or take her chances in court. I have to say that her case does not look strong.

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 17:39:13

@Toughasoldboots... I am pleased to hear the Judge made the decision he did in your case. This head is arrogant and full of her own self importance.
This Head is a real bully and if nothing else, I really feel like it's time someone stood up to her.

exoticfruits Tue 27-Dec-11 17:40:29

It seems just as well that he is out of there but sadly I think that you have very little chance and may as well save a lot of grief by paying up-I think they will win in the end.

underbeneathsiesthemistletoe Tue 27-Dec-11 17:40:45

Good grief. That head wants her head examined.
She does sound like the head of my Dd's private school though - not too unusual I'm afraid to have someone like her at the top of the greasy pole.

Contact a solicitor and show her the letter and replay the messages to her.
I think you've been hounded because you are a lone parent. And the lack of feedback from the teacher and the repeated humiliation of your DS is not on. I'm sure that's against regs private school or not. You might have a case against the school. I'd let my solr deal with the board and avoid all contact with the head.

You're well out of it!

exoticfruits Tue 27-Dec-11 17:40:59

Only stand up if you are strong enough.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:43:40

I think the bottom line is, you need a lawyer who will tell you what options you might have. Keep as much evidence as you can.

MrsCampbellBlack Tue 27-Dec-11 17:45:31

Also double-check you got all the EYFS you were entitled too and how much refundable deposit you paid.

May well be that you don't owe too much really.

MollieO Tue 27-Dec-11 17:46:32

It seems odd to me that your meeting was with the head and not with the class teacher. I would have expected a meeting first with the class teacher and if things weren't resolved then to have a meeting with the head and class teacher together. I would have expected a note of that meeting and an action plan put in place to assist your ds.

My ds started reception at pre-prep being able to read. He was set reading homework every day but at a level that was way below his ability (books with no words). This went on a number of weeks at which point I spoke to his teacher. Ds was pretending he didn't know his alphabet and couldn't read. There were other issues too so I had a meeting with the head, the class teacher and the TA to work out what we all needed to be doing.

With 15 children in the class I expected a close level of attention (a friend going through similar issues at our local state school with a class of 32 had a very different experience). Things improved.

Being at private school doesn't automatically mean the head or the teachers are better. Some can be absolutely shocking, which sounds to be the case with the head.

I'm a single parent and the head has never ever discussed whether I can pay fees or not. I was made redundant earlier in the year and the school bent over backwards to accommodate me and ensure that ds could stay at the school. I think that is pretty normal in this economic climate. Schools don't want falling rolls.

If the head has either left messages defaming you or put it in writing then I would stand my ground. I would also report the head to whichever professional body the school is a member of. Shame it didn't happen in Reception as then you could have contacted Ofsted.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:50:08

Well, yes - I was thinking that if the OP was able to threaten to sue for defamation, maybe the school would drop the threat to chase her for Spring term fees?

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 17:51:10

@Underbeneathsiesthemistletoe... Thank you...

I will be contacting a solicitor as I've already explained the circumstances to the debt collection agency who tried to negotiate with the head.
Unsurprisingly she would not budge and wants two term's money.
She thinks it's financial... which I admit because I cancelled the DD is what it looks like... but it isn't.
I simply haven't paid because of the ill treatment of my DS.

PeaceofCakeAndGoodWineToAllMN Tue 27-Dec-11 17:55:26

Don't speak to the collection agency until you've sought legal advice.

perceptionreality Tue 27-Dec-11 17:56:53

Thing is that even if it was financial, a decent head who thought this might be the case would have wanted to discuss with you whether you could apply for a bursary. I agree with MollieO that for most private schools in today's climate this actually benefits them as much as it does the parent.

Instead this bitch of a head (sorry but she does sound awful) wants to make life as difficult as possible for you. That is very disturbing. If you really were having problems with money I would expect most schools to have a sympathetic response as far as possible and not to begin hunting you down harpie style!

mummytippy Tue 27-Dec-11 18:01:49

@ MollieO...
I'm sorry to hear you experienced similar.
It's funny that you ask... why was the meeting with the head?...
On the day I arrived for the meeting... I expected to speak with my DS's
class teacher. Upon arriving at the school I went to her classroom to speak to her and she informed me there and then that the head was to be present.
She then went to the staff room and announced my arrival, to which the head looked through the door and acknowledged me by raising her hand and nodding.
I then expected her to come out of the staffroom into the classroom where the teacher had returned... but no.
Instead I was left waiting 20 mins... during which time I saw the head walking around in the playground!!!
I immediately knocked on the classroom door (as I was left waiting in the cloakroom) to ask how long the head might be... and tried to talk to the class teacher about the matter... but she made it clear the head had to be present. All this did was make me worry more... as all I could think was that it must be extremely serious. Then when she eventually came in she didn't even apologise. I've never been treated so rudely in all my life.

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