True Cost: Hidden School Fees Revealed

True Cost: Hidden School Fees Revealed
By David Westley
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It’s not just the school fees that leave you with an empty wallet! Over and above the term fees, what are the other key expenses you need to consider when sending your child to school in the UAE?

Uniforms, potential AED: 500-1500AED per child per year
Individually school uniforms are generally quite inexpensive but then when you add on the extras such as PE kits, school swim kit and branded towels, school goggles, branded bags, approved shoes, trainers, football boots, lunchboxes, water bottles, it all adds up. Bear in mind that kids are kids and many things get misplaced, lost or damaged so replacements during the year are also inevitable. Multiply this by two or three children and you have a substantial investment at the start of every school year.

WSA tip:
- Check out second hand uniform sales at school
- Recycle outgrown uniform from friends with older children
- Label everything! – things are less likely to be misplaced if they are labelled

School trips potential AED:  Average 60AED per local day trip – one per term. 6000AED – 12000AED per overseas trip – one per year
Forget trips to the local farm or a dusty old museum, school trips in UAE secondary (and some primary) schools are big business! Team-building weekends, overnight desert trips and hotel stays are the norm for many schools, while older children are given a taste of global travel with ski breaks, jungle treks and charity fundraisers in Asia. These amazing opportunities create enormous financial pressure on parents and it can become a divide between parents who can and cant afford to pay. Agnes, a mother of five in Dubai, says that she had to set a precedent with her brood from the very beginning. “My children have never gone on any of the expensive overseas trips. Having five children, if I allowed one of them to go, then they will all want to do it, and the expense would become immense!”

WSA tip:
- Put aside a small amount every month so you don’t get a nasty surprise half way through the year.
- Find out from the school, the expected trips for the year so you can discuss them with your child, and decide which ones you can realistically afford.

Class collections, potential AED: Average 1000AED per child per year
Collections for birthday gifts, leaving gifts (of which there are a lot in the UAE!), school fundraisers, end of term teacher gifts can leave a huge hole in your wallet. While no parent should be reluctant to show their appreciation of the fantastic job done by the teachers and school staff, donations to one collection or another can sometimes seem like a weekly occurrence. Most primary school classes have one nominated parent who organises the collection and gift, whereas in secondary school, most gifts are bought individually which can drastically increase the amount you spend.

WSA Tip:
- Natasha Ljunggren, a Swedish mum of two suggests pooling expenses and paying upfront at the beginning of the year. “Voluntary amounts offered could be an average of AED1000 per year per child which would include donations for the school Spring Fayre, end of year gifts, farewell gifts for leaving children. It also makes it easier and less time consuming for those collecting.”

Other expenses parents should consider:
School bus – An essential service for many parents, the average bus costs around 1500AED per child per term.
After school activities – Usually provided free by the school, but some activities are ‘paid for’ services from outside agencies
Stationary & Books – The school provides most stationary and all books but students may want to buy some of their own materials.

The reality is, as much of a struggle as it may be, the school fee is just the start of your expenses. Add together the above, and you are talking about thousands of additional dirhams your child will need to be appropriately clothed and to be able to join her or her peers in group activities.

The best way to avoid being surprised or having to disappoint your children is to have a budget, and come rain or shine, set aside that amount of money each and every month...

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