School Fees: Time to Pay, and to Deliver has seen a growing number of parents claiming they should no longer pay fees simply because schools are not open, and schools beginning to lock children out of online learning activities because fees have not been paid. Neither action is justified.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Editorial: has seen an increasing amount of social media activity around school fees, with a growing number of parents claiming they should no longer pay fees simply because schools are not open. We have also seen schools beginning to lock children out of online learning activities because fees have not been paid. Neither action, we think, is justified.

Schools need to acknowledge the huge anxiety that exists around the world, exacerbated in the United Arab Emirates by the fact that most of us are expatriates living away from family and loved ones. Our life in the UAE is tethered to a work visa and yet we see, in real time, the effect that the crisis is having on the companies that pay our wages. We are, understandably, concerned by the large financial commitment to schools we make, when our world can change overnight.

This does not, however, change the fact that schools need fees to survive. The majority of schools do not generate massive profits, whatever the inflated claims circulating on social media. Money that schools collect goes, largely, to paying staff, rent, and running costs. Not For Profits (NFPs) in theory should have lower fees, as their rent is often subsidised, and there is no shareholder. However, NFP fees are usually higher than for profit fees. Why? Because NFPs pay their teachers very well.

After a few days of home schooling, few of us would begrudge paying our teachers more.

If parents do not support their school and pay their fees, there will be no school to return to when this crisis is over. The same is even more true for nurseries, that are not likely to survive Covid-19 unless they get support from the government.

We all need to ask ourselves what the country would look like if it did not have the nurseries, and schools, it enjoys today...

Schools, meanwhile, cannot lock children out of online lessons before asking any questions. There are parents that have real difficulties and actually cannot, rather than do not want to, pay the fees. Schools should not pull down the shutters and ignore this reality. If a school wants to be seen as truly part of the community, and not just another profit maximising company, then they need to find ways to support parents having, hopefully temporary, difficulties.

As well as supporting parents who have been made redundant, schools could find ways to alleviate anxiety over the payment of fees for those that have not, yet, but feel it is a real possibility. Explicitly allow for refunds if circumstances change beyond the power of the parents involved - if only for the duration of this crisis.

Schools will also be helped if they are playing at the very top of their game right now, and really showcase the effectiveness of the lessons they deliver. With distance learning never has a school's output been so transparent. While parents have been hugely encouraging and appreciative of the work schools have done to get home learning ready in time, do not think that they are not making evaluations of what is being delivered to their children, and, frankly, whether they feel it is worth the school fee they pay.

Finally, the authorities. We all empathise with the size of the task at hand. The Covid-19 crisis is a fast moving situation with no precedent to guide us. The school situation is one of a large number of moving parts that the authorities have to consider. Like all of us, they are under immense pressure to make a range of hugely important decisions very quickly.

However, that does not change the fact some form of financial support needs to be put in place for parents and/or schools that do meet financial difficulties because of the lock down. If there are going to be redundancies during this crisis, the school sector, a pillar of society, is itself going to need support.

Keeping good people, businesses - and schools - is much easier than having to start, create, build or recruit them.

Our children's wellbeing needs all of us: This is a time when we need to see beyond our own personal needs and desires, and support our community and those within it who need help the most.

We will, of course, come out of this crisis, but how well we do so depends on the choices and decisions we make today. Let's make ones that we will be proud of.

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