Sections 449-462 of the Education Act 1996 govern the law on “charging for school activities”. This applies to all maintained schools, academies and Local Authorities. This information page will cover what schools are able to charge for, what they are unable to charge for and also related areas such as optional extras and voluntary contributions.
The General Rule
Schools and Local Authorities cannot charge for education provided during school hours (including the supply of any materials, books, instruments or other equipment).
Schools also cannot charge for:
- education provided outside of school hours if it is part of the national curriculum / syllabus;
- music tuition unless it has been provided due to parental request;
- entry for public exams if the pupil has been prepared for it at the school;
- exam resits if the pupil is being prepared for them at the school
Schools and Local Authorities can charge for:
- any materials which the parents wish the child to own;
- optional extras (see below);
- music tuition;
- certain early years provision;
- community facilities.
Such charges can only be levied if the school has a charging and remissions policy (see below).
Schools can charge for costs of materials / ingredients for subjects such as design or food technology, where parents have indicated in advance that they would like their child to bring home the finished product.
Schools can charge for ‘optional extras’. However, schools must first obtain parents’ consent to their child’s participation in the optional extra and their agreement to pay the cost.
Optional extras are:
- education provided outside of school hours that is not part of the national curriculum or part of a public exam syllabus or part of religious education;
- exam entry fees, if the pupil has not been prepared for the exam at the school;
- transport other than transport required to take the pupil to school or other premises provided by the Local Authority or governing body for the pupil’s education;
- board and lodging for a pupil on a residential visit;
- extended day services offered to pupils (eg breakfast or after-school clubs).
The charge for the optional extra can include the costs of:
- providing related materials, books, instruments or equipment;
- buildings / accommodation used;
- teaching and non-teaching staff involved.
Any charge for any pupil must not exceed the actual cost of providing the optional extra divided by the number of participants. Also, the charge should not include a subsidy for those pupils whose parents won’t / can’t pay.
If part of the activity takes place during school hours, no charge can be made for alternative provision for non-participants – for example, a school can not charge for supply teachers needed to cover teachers on a residential trip.
Schools/ Local Authorities can ask for voluntary contributions for the benefit of the school or any school activities. It must be made clear to parents that the contributions are voluntary and parents must not be made to feel pressurised into paying. Schools should, therefore, avoid sending colour-coded reminder letters or standing order / direct debit mandates to parents when asking for contributions.
Schools must inform parents if a particular activity will have to be cancelled if insufficient funds are collected.
No child can be excluded from an activity just because their parents won’t or can’t pay. Schools must inform parents prior to any trip of their policy for allocating places.
Schools must ensure that they inform parents on low income of the support available when asking for contributions towards the cost of school trips.
Charges can be made for vocal / instrumental tuition, whether for individual or group lessons, provided that tuition is provided at the request of the pupil’s parent. Charges may not exceed the cost of the provision, including cost of staff.
Charges cannot be made if the tuition is an essential part of the national curriculum or the pupil is ‘looked after’ by a Local Authority (defined in s22(1) Children Act 1989).
Schools cannot charge for:
- transporting registered pupils to or from school where the Local Education Authority has a statutory obligation to provide transport;
- transporting registered pupils to other premises where the governors or Local Authority have arranged for the pupils to be educated;
- transport that enables a pupil to meet an examination requirement, when he has prepared for the exam at the school;
- transport provided in connection with an educational visit.
Schools and Local Authorities cannot charge for:
- the pupil’s entry for exams or exam resists, where the pupil has been prepared for it at the school.
Schools and Local Authorities can charge for:
- the pupil’s entry for exams, where the exam is on the school’s set list but the pupil was not prepared for it at the school;
- the pupil’s entry for exams, if it was not on the school’s set list, but they arranged for the child to sit the exam;
- the pupil, without good reason, fails to complete the exam and the school or Local Authority paid the entry fee.
Charging and Remissions Policies
Schools and Local Authorities must have a charging policy (detailing what they intend to charge for) and a remissions policy. A school’s policy does not have to be the same as the policy of the Local Authority, provided it complies with the law.
The charging policy should specify each type of activity that can be charged for and explain when the charges will be made, how they will be calculated and who might qualify for help with the cost.
The remissions policy must set out the circumstances where the school / Local Authority will provide an exemption for whole or part of such charges. Schools can decide to reduce costs for those children whose parents are in receipt of certain benefits.
- Schools can charge for board and lodging but the charge must not exceed the actual cost.
- Schools cannot charge for:
- education on any visit during school hours;
- education outside school hours that is part of the national curriculum or for a public exam;
- the cost of supply teachers who cover for those teachers who are on the residential visit.
Schools must make it clear that parents who are in receipt of certain state benefits will be exempt from the cost of board and lodging. The ‘eligibility criteria’ is aligned to that of free school meals.
Education Partly During School Hours
A school can only charge for activities outside school hours. However, no charge can be made for activities outside school hours if they are part of the national curriculum, a syllabus for a prescribed public examination or religious education.
If 50% or more of the activity time is during school hours, it is deemed to take place during school hours and no charge can be made. Travel time counts in this activity but school hours do not include lunch time.
If less than 50% of the time on the activity is during school hours, the whole trip is deemed to take place outside school hours and the school can charge – for example, an evening trip that leaves school an hour before school ends.
For residential visits, if the number of school sessions taken up by the visit is 50% or more of the ‘half days’ spent on the visit, it is deemed to take place during school hours (even if some activities take place late in the evening). The school day is required to be split into 2 sessions regardless of start or finish times. A ‘ half day’ means any period of 12 hours ending with noon or midnight on any day.
Example: A trip from Wednesday 12 noon to Sunday 9pm will count as 9 half days with 5 school sessions and so will be deemed to take place during school hours. Whereas a trip from Thursday 12 noon until Sunday 9pm will count as 7 half days with 3 school sessions and will be treated as taking place outside school hours.
State Boarding Schools
These schools cannot charge for education during school hours but they can charge for the actual cost of board and lodging and extended day services offered to day pupils – for example, breakfast clubs.
Extended day services for day pupils at boarding schools must be optional. Any associated charges must also be optional.