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AIBU?

To not want to pay DS's 2022-23 school fees?

138 replies

Avery2024 · 11/02/2024 23:58

Loads of backstory here... 

DS and DD both attended what is regarded as an 'elite private school' (not bragging, just giving context). Over the past 3 years, we have struggled with the fees due to my business closing during Covid and being stuck overseas for almost a year due to travel restrictions. However, the school were understanding and allowed us to enter into a payment plan, which we stuck to.

In 2022, DS entered Year 11 and was clear that he was struggling. He has ADHD (which is medicated) and homeschooling had really not worked for him. Added to this, his friend died in the most horrific circumstances, his best friend's dad committed suicide, his diving teacher was exposed as a paedophile and he was involved in two serious car accidents, all within a very short period of time.  

I reached out to the Head of Learning Enhancement, Mrs G, at the beginning of the year as I felt DS needed some extra help and could we please have a short meeting. The school is very well resourced and she is in charge of coordinating any extra help that the students may need. It is a huge school with a strong emphasis on mental health. Her response was that we should speak again 'after the reports come out'. I replied that this was not for some time and that DS needed some help now as this was a very important year. She ignored my request. I emailed Mrs G a few more times but did not hear back. DS was then savagely beaten up by another boy at the school. The school to their credit dealt with it and expelled the boy. Nevertheless, DS was shaken by this and the incident just added to DS's problems.

A while later and quite suddenly, we noticed a change in DS. Although he was never what you would call an academic high flyer, nevertheless he had ambition and had planned to go to university to study industrial design. He was Design Ambassador at his previous school and it was clear that he had a flair for design. He spoke passionately about having his own design consultancy, buying a live/work unit locally that he had seen and getting a dog.  He had it all planned out.

But suddenly out of the blue he started talking about leaving school as he was "too stupid for uni". He stopped caring about school work and started talking about leaving and taking on manual jobs, which isn't really him. Aside from anything else, he does not like to get dirty. He kept calling himself "dumb" and "useless". He had always been quite a confident boy and this behaviour was new. We had no idea what was going on until I finally heard from Mrs G suggesting we meet. Finally! I told DS in the car when I picked him up from school that Mrs G has finally agreed to meet with us and jokingly said I was tempted to tell her no, she had had her chance. DS then said, "Yeah! And she told [another boy's] mum that I was not the brightest!" I was so shocked I nearly crashed the car. I pulled over and DS burst into tears. He said that everybody thinks he's stupid.  

We arrived home and I immediately emailed Mrs G (and the entire cc list that she had included on her email) that I was furious that she had told ANOTHER PARENT that DS was "not the brightest" and I did not want her anywhere near our son. The other people on cc (Head of Year, Head of Senior School, School Psychologist, etc) quickly organised a meeting (excluding Mrs G) and tried to put a programme together for DS. However, after a few meetings, it was clear that we had lost him. No amount of help was going to do anything now. A few months went by and DS was still completely disengaged from school.

I was still angry at Mrs G as I partly blamed her for us losing nearly a year and for her hurtful comment. We had always been very quiet parents and not ones to make a fuss. Nevertheless, I felt something needed to be done about Mrs G so DH went to see the Headmaster. At the very least, she owed DS an apology. The Headmaster was VERY defensive of Mrs G and kept saying how 'professional' she was. Honestly, that is the last word I would use to describe her. So nothing was done.

Then 2 weeks later and completely out of the blue, the School Accountant contacted us to tell us our Payment Plan was cancelled and we had until the end of the week to settle the fees for both DS and DD. I haven't mentioned DD until now as there's not a lot to say. She is a model student, quiet and well-behaved. She was in Year 5 at the time. The accountant said that if we did not pay the fees by the end of the week, DD 's place would be cancelled with immediate effect. They were allowing DS to stay on as he only had another year to go. This seemed so cruel to DD. She is such a lovely girl. It also didn't make sense. We had a Payment Plan and we were sticking to it. The demand just seemed to come from nowhere.  

DS was still talking about leaving school and becoming a labourer or something, his motivation for school was zero and so I asked the school if they would consider cancelling DS's place and keeping DD. They agreed. So DS left school. We sacrificed DS for DD but felt coerced into it. This was a year ago. Needless to say, the labouring didn't work out. He tried another blue collar job and that didn't work out either. So he's at home, jobless, sad and depressed whilst all his friends are at uni.  

I just feel the school let him down. I am struggling to still pay his fees from his last year at school and I resent it so much. He could have done so well if the school had helped him rather than ridicule him to another parent. I don't want to pay the last year of fees but they've got us over a barrel with DD.

Thanks for listening. Would like to know your thoughts.

OP posts:
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Am I being unreasonable?

674 votes. Final results.

POLL
You are being unreasonable
62%
You are NOT being unreasonable
38%
Heronwatcher · 12/02/2024 08:50

I think if you were planning on taking both kids out then I’d say don’t pay- and see if they take you to court. They would probably send various threatening letters but if it came down to it might well decide the reputational risks are too high. You might also have a case that there has been a breach of the contract between the school and you in the case of your son, but I’d take specialist advice on that because if the school were offering their normal “service”, like teachers, buildings, heating etc it’s likely that they’ve performed their part of the contract, even without any additional help, and the payment plan was only ever discretionary.

But if you want to keep either of your kids there then I think you have to pay up and put this behind you-but honestly it really doesn’t sound like the best place for your DS- elite private schools can be a truly horrible experience for kids who don’t fit their mould. I’d pull him out asap honestly and I’d be thinking about whether it’s right for your DD too. A fantastic set of exam results, the right school tie and a few connections do not compensate for shocking mental health and low self esteem.

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eish · 12/02/2024 08:54

Hi OP

This sounds horrendous for your son, he has had a horrible time and needs some help and support. I am talking about all the unrelated awful incidents. I think he needs therapy to deal with these. I think hearing what Mrs G said you overreacted and have allowed the focus / reason for your son’s problems to remain focused solely on that comment instead of brushing it off and telling him it was untrue you nearly crashed the car. I agree that the school should have given him much more support following his trauma but perhaps they weren’t equipped or that actually he should have had time off rather than being at school. Hindsight is a beautiful thing though so much easy to say this now.

focus on building your son’s confidence, therapy, hobbies. Get him a dog if that was his plan and you can cope with this. Forget about his future now and focus on here and now. His future plans can come later.

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Woodyandbuzz1 · 12/02/2024 08:54

Moonlaserbearwolf · 12/02/2024 08:48

I also think you are focusing too much on Mrs G. Your son has had some traumatic experiences and needs help. In situations like this, it makes life easier for us to focus on 1 specific thing or individual. But, objectively, Mrs G is not the main focus here.

Mrs g could have organised some mental health support when op first emailed her, it's possible with that support op's son would not have spiralled so badly

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schoolsuckz · 12/02/2024 08:56

I understand your anger OP, and don’t want to sound harsh, but you need all the energy you have funneled towards helping your son overcome his current feelings and situation, not stewing on some wrangle with the school you can’t afford and probably won’t win.

You can’t just say ‘we lost him’ and then wash your hands of it. He is a child (or only just new adult) who experienced what sounds like a lot of trauma in his late teens. You know he is bright and capable and has things he loves - do your best to re-engage him with those things (could be academically or not), get him some mental health support, throw everything you can into helping him find his path and rebuilding his confidence. It might take him a few years but with your consistent support hopefully he’ll find himself again. Everyone’s path is different and just because it’s not what he thought or you expected it doesn’t mean his future is a write off at all.

i assume you’re already looking for a different school for your DD from year 7? Can’t believe you’d want to keep her in a school that would let your son down so completely. They have shown you how they deal with a pupil who is struggling. They’ve shown you how they deal with a parent who is struggling and dares step out of line… Why would you want to engage with them for another decade? There are other schools out there (both private and state).

There’s a lot in your power to do, but it sounds as though you decided a while ago that your son’s situation was hopeless, and now you’re more focused on the school’s wrongdoing than his well-being. If you feel strongly enough about the wrongdoing to take action, then it’s untenable and contradictory to have your DD there at all.

If funds are so tight perhaps it would be of greater benefit to both children to have DD in the state system and have funds to pay for extra tutoring/support/out of school activities and counseling for your son.

it’s easy when you’re surrounded by that environment to forget (or perhaps you haven’t much experience of) the fact that many people have circuitous paths to their careers and through their learning, and not going straight to uni from school says nothing about his capabilities. I’m not sure if he ever took his a levels but surely he could have and can still go to college/local school to do these if not? There are also a lot of art/design based qualifications that I’d guess his old school wouldn’t have offered that might be available to him elsewhere.

Being a young adult is really hard and it sounds as though your son experienced a lot of trauma at school. (Was he directly impacted by his diving instructor’s behavior?) He needs your active help and support, even if it means providing that through a year or two of him being unemployed/ struggling to know what to do/going back to education or whatever. You seem to have a slightly binary attitude to challenges which might not be standing you in good stead right now… try and focus on positive steps, not how hard done by you’ve been up til now while simultaneously volunteering (or volunteering your daughter) for more of the same. For all your well-beings get her out of there asap.

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WaltzingWaters · 12/02/2024 09:08

For you DS he needs professional help for his mental health and then slowly ease back into hobbies and education, whether that be an apprenticeship or college/uni, in something that interests him.

As for the fees, I think you’d have a hard time fighting to waiver those fees due to the school being useless when you’ve kept your DD there. I’d be finding another school for Dd to go to for starters.

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littlefireseverywhere · 12/02/2024 09:08

I’d remove my daughter, put her in a good state school & move on. Get DS health restored, get him a part time job & retake GCSEs or A levels as needed.

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lifebeginsaftercoffee · 12/02/2024 09:09

Mrs g could have organised some mental health support when op first emailed her, it's possible with that support op's son would not have spiralled so badly

OP could also have done that herself though - instead of letting her emails go unanswered, why didn't she escalate things at the time?

I don't think it's right to refuse to pay for a service you received at continued to receive the following year.

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CatchAButterfly · 12/02/2024 09:19

I have to ask OP, if Mrs G was so bad and you genuinely believe your son was so let down, why have you sent your son there for another year? I can understand you not wanting to pull out your daughter if she’s doing fine, but why did he go back after year 11?

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Krystall · 12/02/2024 09:25

Heronwatcher · 12/02/2024 08:50

I think if you were planning on taking both kids out then I’d say don’t pay- and see if they take you to court. They would probably send various threatening letters but if it came down to it might well decide the reputational risks are too high. You might also have a case that there has been a breach of the contract between the school and you in the case of your son, but I’d take specialist advice on that because if the school were offering their normal “service”, like teachers, buildings, heating etc it’s likely that they’ve performed their part of the contract, even without any additional help, and the payment plan was only ever discretionary.

But if you want to keep either of your kids there then I think you have to pay up and put this behind you-but honestly it really doesn’t sound like the best place for your DS- elite private schools can be a truly horrible experience for kids who don’t fit their mould. I’d pull him out asap honestly and I’d be thinking about whether it’s right for your DD too. A fantastic set of exam results, the right school tie and a few connections do not compensate for shocking mental health and low self esteem.

We would take it to court, we have lawyers on retainer for this and it really isn’t much work for us. In the last twelve months we have secured charges on three peoples properties and we also made a recovery of £80k on a ten year old debt, for really not that much cost either.

We would consider developing a reputation as a school that does not pursue debts of being a much greater risk to the schools reputation than one parent’s complaint about one teacher when we have a 100 year history, are over subscribed and have primarily happy parents and a solid reputation.

The people that think a private school will walk away this easily have perhaps never worked in private school finance! Before I went into education, I worked in multinational financial services, in my experience a bank would write off a debt much quicker than a private school!

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BoohooWoohoo · 12/02/2024 09:26

OP you are unfairly placing all of the blame on Mrs G because you don’t have another person who can be blamed so it’s easy to blame her. She shouldn’t have said what she said but your son has suffered an extraordinary amount of trauma which sounds mainly down to bad luck rather than an actual person.

You could have arranged private counselling yourself when she first said that she wouldn’t consider help until after reports. Does the school really have a strong MH reputation or is it one of those things that they say to look good? You knew that your son was struggling yet failed to see that red flag.

Was he academically struggling (likely to fail some subjects) or simply not going to match the 11 grade 9s or whatever the rest of the class would have achieved? If it’s the former then I think that you were cruel not to move him to a school where he could be more middle of the class and therefore feel more confident.

As for your dd- I’m guessing that you will move her for year 6? If not, why not? You know that this school is only good for kids who are feeling fine and that they initially wanted her gone.

I would buy my son the dog from his fantasy and get him into therapy. He’s got many years on this planet left and it’s absolutely fine that he doesn’t take a conventional route into adulthood. Bringing up his confidence and realising that he did nothing wrong will hopefully make things brighter for him.

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WitchWithoutChips · 12/02/2024 09:34

You need legal advice on the matter of the fees. Check your contract and the terms of your payment plan carefully - there is very likely a clause which gives them the right to withdraw the plan at any time. However - schools like this are very sensitive to reputational damage and you might find that you still have a card to play if you are willing to make it clear that you won't go quietly, would consider going to the press etc. This needs very careful thought given your DS's fragility however.

I can't really fathom wanting to keep DD at the school, tbh, now that you know what they are capable of. I would be urgently looking at alternatives for her.

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CatchAButterfly · 12/02/2024 09:40

Heronwatcher · 12/02/2024 08:50

I think if you were planning on taking both kids out then I’d say don’t pay- and see if they take you to court. They would probably send various threatening letters but if it came down to it might well decide the reputational risks are too high. You might also have a case that there has been a breach of the contract between the school and you in the case of your son, but I’d take specialist advice on that because if the school were offering their normal “service”, like teachers, buildings, heating etc it’s likely that they’ve performed their part of the contract, even without any additional help, and the payment plan was only ever discretionary.

But if you want to keep either of your kids there then I think you have to pay up and put this behind you-but honestly it really doesn’t sound like the best place for your DS- elite private schools can be a truly horrible experience for kids who don’t fit their mould. I’d pull him out asap honestly and I’d be thinking about whether it’s right for your DD too. A fantastic set of exam results, the right school tie and a few connections do not compensate for shocking mental health and low self esteem.

Any alleged breach by the school has been accepted by OP by her keeping her son in for another year so it won’t give her a reason to not pay fees.

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NoCloudsAllowed · 12/02/2024 09:42

That sounds like a hard year. Nonetheless, I think you owe the fees.

Private schools can't just waive fees when a child struggles. You'd be looking to argue a fundamental breach of contract but it takes something much more severe than what happened here and a throwaway comment from a teacher.

They provided schooling for him and you agreed to pay, so pay according to the terms that were laid out. It sounds like you're trying to find justification because you're struggling financially - would you pay up without a fight if money wasn't an issue for you?

Really, your experience outlines why private schools are shit - they basically want to cherry pick the students who will boost their results and give an easy time, if children struggle or have SEN/mental health needs they don't particularly give a shit. Their business model depends on good grades and a smooth experience, and your son was detrimental to that.

If I were you, I'd move your DD to a state school. You obviously don't really have faith in this school, and it's proven that it's not really an insurance policy against children having problems. To put it bluntly, with private schools you pay to keep the riff raff out and your son put himself into the riff raff category.

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Zodfa · 12/02/2024 09:53

If Mrs G didn't say what you accused her of saying (and the evidence she did is rather shaky), then basically you've libelled a fairly senior member of staff in a business to which you owe a large amount of money. It's not surprising they don't want to do business with you any longer.

(Also, forcing out difficult kids is a big reason private schools manage to do well. Easier to do that than actually provide the fantastic education they advertise about.)

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eish · 12/02/2024 09:55

Was this a boarding school? Because it seems to me that you requested help for your son and they underestimated the help he needed (it seemed they wrongly thought it was academic rather than pastoral due to waiting for results) you didn’t continue to pursue help for him. You should have been shouting from the rooftops and it sounds to me they weren’t equipped to offer this support. Sorry if this sounds harsh, I will admit that my opinion may be skewed having attended boarding school myself.

With the Mrs G comment, it is in a she said he said. How do you know it hasn’t been taken out of context. ‘Not the brightest’ to another parent could have been said in many ways both negative and positive.

Your son’s dreams may have come apart for now and he may not have the same ones again but try and build his confidence. Show him he has value and much to offer. University isn’t everything but there’s still the door open later down the line if he wishes.

get him outside, diving, walking, volunteering at a dogs home etc. whatever will suit him. Tell him it is fine to take a year off to recover, no pressure. Then build him up, seek advice from therapists and ADHD specialists.

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EatingSleeping · 12/02/2024 09:56

I agree that you need to put your energy elsewhere now. Stewing on it isn't helping your son and might actually be making things worse in that he feels he's further let people down 'is useless' because it was all a waste of money given that he didn't 'achieve' what he thinks you and others might expect.

It sounds like he's had an extraordinarily tough time. The most resilient of adults would be floored. So id put my energy into restoring and recovering. Nothing needs to be achieved right now. One foot in front of the other. Even if that's getting a design book from the library or picking up drawing pencils.

I'm absolutely staggered that you're keeping your youngest child there. If he was failed so badly by them (and it doesn't sound great at all but hard to tell really as all seems centred on this one woman) then how do you have any faith that they'd support your daughter if she needed it? Why on earth is she still there. I'd be moving her to state, paying the debt and then using the freed up money to access therapy for the oldest and extra curricular for the youngest

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horseyhorsey17 · 12/02/2024 09:56

I don't think you're going to be able to not pay the fees. Worth a try but I wouldn't hold out too much hope in that regard. As others have said - it doesn't help your case that you want to keep your daughter there, because if it really was as bad as you say, you'd be expected to want to remove her.

Did he sit/pass his GCSEs? If not, then the priority should be to get him into college to retake those, or failing that, look into an apprenticeship. I think he'd still be better off applying for those with GCSEs though.

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Doseofreality · 12/02/2024 09:57

Why would you want to keep your daughter in a school that you feel so badly failed failed your son?

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TheSnowyOwl · 12/02/2024 10:02

I can’t see how you aren’t contractually obliged to pay the fees so YABU to not to do so.

I really hope things improve for your son and I think all the other issues you have mentioned are separate to the fees.

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PropertyManager · 12/02/2024 10:11

I'm a teacher in the private sector and on SLT, been in the sector 22 years. From your OP it sounds to me like you are abroad, you use terms we wouldn't usually use in the UK, for example:

You say "Elite Private School", we would say "Public School"
You say "School Accountant", we would say "Bursar" or "School Business Manager"
You say "Head of Learning Enhancement", we would say "SENCO"

This is important, because things work differently in different territories.

I'm very sorry your son has had all this strife to contend with alongside the issues COVID has caused to all young people learning through this period.

However, it does seem like the school has been supportive to you, they expelled (which is a big decision as it has a huge financial cost) another student to end bullying and they put in place a payment plan.

As a teacher I find it hard to conceive of a situation where I would be in a position to comment on the intelligence of a pupil to another parent, not only would it be very unprofessional, I'm not sure how it would arise. And it seems you only have your DS say so, second hand from a peer, the Mrs G said this - it really sounds to me like this has grown in the telling, its quite conceivable that Mrs G made an innocent comment, such as "Joe is having support for his maths too, your son gets on with joe, they could go in a group together" - after a few repeats Mrs G said Joe is thick, its easy to see how this could happen...

However, even if Mrs G was unprofessional, and unkind, you should not have lost him over this, it would have been a good chance to re-enforce to him that the world is not a fair place, and not everyone is kind etc... also that you can be "not the brightest" in one area and a high flyer in another. You could be a great artist but crap at maths.

I would agree with pp that you don't stand a chance at not paying - the school provided the service, and will persue the debt. We chase debts of non paying parents to the courts - pp's talk of reputational damage, but its not an issue - if we are chasing say £60K in unpaid fees, that kind of case doesn't get reported on, the courts process tens of thousands of unpaid debt cases every year, and the debtor immediately looks in the wrong and can be expected to put up a spurious defence, no ones going to print such a story.

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2mummies1baby · 12/02/2024 10:13

Poirott · 12/02/2024 07:18

Another one here confused by the timelines. Year 11 2022 entry means he is sitting his A levels next year so his friends should still be in school?

Pretty sure the OP is in Australia.

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Bluevelvetsofa · 12/02/2024 10:14

Did DS take any GCSEs? Usually, if the grades are not sufficient for A level, alternatives to 6th form would be appropriate.

What course is he doing now and is he attending?

I don’t see how you can avoid paying fees for a year that has already taken place, whether or not you’re happy with the outcomes of that year. That, in itself, is questionable, because you allowed DS to stay in a place you don’t regard positively.

I’d focus on exploring the possibilities for a practical course for him and remove DD before you incur any more fees. It’s clear that many things happened to impact DS, but it’s important to focus on the present and the future. He’s a young man and has opportunities, if you help him to explore them.

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Beautiful3 · 12/02/2024 10:18

I'm so sorry, it sounds like your son has had a tough few years. Honestly I don't think you can really blame school. He has adhd and his friend died. A throwaway comment from a teacher, saying he's not the brightest, can't be 100% to blame for his dropping out. His mental health must have been pretty bad at the time, to have taken that one comment so badly. I would put him into counselling. When he's feeling in a better place, perhaps explore alternative careers e.g. hair dressing/massage/reiki/counselling nvq based etc.

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Prizefighter · 12/02/2024 10:22

Have you spoken to a solicitor? I would be tempted to speak to a litigator about this.

There may be a breach of duty of care on the school’s part. My tactics would be to go in hard with a solicitor and claim against the school. Then agree to drop it if they dropped the fees.

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Nonplusultra · 12/02/2024 10:27

I understand the desire to place all the blame on Mrs G - I’m still furious at a teacher in ds’ primary, but it isn’t helpful to scapegoat. It can even be a dangerous form of gaslighting when there is so much more going on with a vulnerable child.

For now, I’d strip back to basics and do my best to encourage him to eat well, spend time outdoors, exercise and meet people - all real life stuff (not online). Get his help around the house, even if it’s tiny steps like “hold this for a sec while I …” Establish that he matters, and is needed. Always have a plan for tomorrow and for next week, even if it’s tiny things like “would you cut the grass at the weekend”. Be easy with him - give him space to just be himself.

He has stepped off the conveyor belt of education so naturally others are moving at a different pace. Our education system is age based and it must feel destabilising to him but it was conceived for the needs of the 19th century economy. He’s taking a different path now but he’s not a failure.

There’s a concept in home ed circles of unschooling - sometimes in order to learn, dc who have been damaged by school need time to adjust. He will be ok - you said yourself that he had potential and ambition for design and that’s an area where his talents will matter more than the route he’s taken.

As for the school fees - it’s galling to pay, but you may just have to suck it up. Don’t talk about that with him though.

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