Arriving in Christmas mail, the heaviest letter of them all: next term’s school fees. A century ago, the cost of a private education at a secondary British school was about seven guineas, roughly £7.35 or one and half ounces of gold. Today, the average bill is £4,000 a term, or six ounces of gold. At the most prestigious boarding schools, such as Eton, a term’s fees can reach £9,000 (before extras). That takes the total cost of a private secondary education to as much as £135,000 – about half a gold ingot.
Talk about a heavy load. During the past decade, school fees have risen by three-quarters. Broader UK inflation, meanwhile, has been about 20 per cent. Everything is relative, however, and by some measures school fees have actually fallen. Take what is typically the largest asset owned by a private educating family, their home. Now match it against their largest cost. In 1999, the value of an average UK house was equivalent to five years of Eton fees. Today it would buy almost 6 years.