From the birth of your child right up to the end of their teens, there are a multitude of issues you'll worry about as a parent - and it's fair to assume that education is probably one of them!
While every parent wants to do the best for their child, education factors heavily into your child's chances of success, so it's important to find the right setting to match their requirements. But what if you can't afford the education they need?
There are many different funding options for education out there, from childcare and early years to secondary school and university. We've asked a number of experts exactly what's available at each stage, and how to access it.
Early Education funding
In the UK, all three and four - and some two - year olds are entitled to 15 funded hours per week of early education.
Ellen Broome of the Family and Childcare Trust, which aims to make the UK a better place for families, says:
"This is an important help for families, but sometimes parents find that these are not offered at times that fit in with their work commitments, and some parents are not aware of what they are entitled to, meaning that they miss out on this support."
Recent research from the Trust also highlights how important it is to find out exactly what you are entitled to; many disabled children aren't accessing the early education available to them. There are resources being allocated to early education and childcare by the government, but at the moment the system is too complex and confusing for parents and providers says Ellen:
"We want to see a simpler system of support that is easy for parents to navigate and that is more flexible and responsive to the needs of working parents.
We also believe that giving more money directly to providers such as childminders and nurseries rather than to parents would be better as it would improve the quality of childcare, and avoid driving up prices for parents."
So, what advice does the Family and Childcare Trust give for support with childcare and early education?
Tips for funding early education
- If you have a three or four year old child, make sure they are getting their 15 hours of funded childcare a week for 38 weeks of the year. Some two year olds can get this too. You can claim this by contacting your local council
- If you are a working parent, you may be able to get help with your childcare costs through the childcare element of Working Tax Credit, or from your employer if they provide childcare vouchers or workplace childcare
- If you are thinking about studying, there is a range of childcare funding available to support student parents
- Speak to your Family Information Service (FIS) about the childcare options in your area, including after school clubs, holiday play schemes and childcare for disabled children. They can advise you on how to access funded childcare as well as how to get help with paying for childcare.
Primary and Secondary School funding
The funding of Primary and Secondary education in England is a complex matter. The only centralised repository of information on scholarships, bursaries and educational trusts and charities is the Good Schools Guide Scholarships and Bursaries Service. You can tell this service what you need, when and where you need it and they will - for a small fee - research what might be available for you to apply for.
As Susan Hamlyn, Director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, says:
"Parents looking into state school funding will find a bewildering array of terms - free schools, academies, voluntary aided schools, community schools, faith schools and grammar schools - and all these are state-run and state funded though via different routes.
The private sector is only marginally less confusing - private, independent and public schools all now mean roughly the same thing, which is that they all charge fees. For parents, grandparents or guardians who want - or need - fee-paying education for the children in their charge, the fees are often daunting or seemingly impossibly high."
There are, however, various ways the fees can be reduced, according to the Good Schools Guide.
Tips for funding primary and secondary school
If you need a boarding school for your children but the £30,000 a year plus is well outside your budget, consider a state boarding school. Take a look at The State Boarding Schools Association and you will find that there are boarding schools around the country offering a first rate education and parents pay only for the boarding side, i.e. not the education.
Scholarships: If your child has a genuine aptitude or talent - for example academic, musical, sporting, or artistic - most private schools have scholarship money which is used to attract applications from the talented and exceptionally able. These days many scholarships are not particularly valuable financially, but some are worth 50% or more of the fees and can bring free music lessons or help with sports tours. Few schools have scholarships for children younger than 11, though some will start at 7.
Bursaries: If your child is outstandingly able, you can apply for a bursary - sometimes used to top up scholarships - and in some cases, this can fund 100% of your child's education. It can even provide additional funds to help with uniform costs or the costs of expeditions. You need to make a full disclosure of your income and commitments and these are appraised annually. In some cases, a family with an income up to £70,000-£80,000 may qualify for some bursarial help, though much also depends on your location. Few schools offer bursaries for children under 11.
Educational trusts and charities: There are hundreds of trusts and charities which have funds to support the education of needy children. There is help for children wishing to major in particular subjects, children who live in a particular area, children from particular ethnic backgrounds and, of course, children who have lost one or both parents. You might try visiting Charity Choice to browse a directory of charities who offer educational grants.
On the grounds of ability, many children would be eligible, but no school can give awards to as many children as deserve them. So proceed with caution and never expect to gain a scholarship or bursary - however deserving your child is.
Higher Education and University funding
The University funding system can often be just as complex as those for childcare, primary and secondary school. As a parent, you will normally need to support your child's application for university funding if they decide it's the right educational route for them to take. Students are generally able to apply for the standard loan package available in the UK either online or by post.
Student loans available to UK students
- Tuition Fee Loan: English or EU full-time or part-time students can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan. This loan is paid directly to their university or college, and must be paid back once your child has graduated, is employed and earning an income of over £21,000 a year. It's also important to note that students will be charged interest on the loan, although interest rates vary depending on inflation. For information on student loan repayments, visit the Student Loans Company Repayment website
- Maintenance Loan: Students are able to apply for a loan to cover the cost of help with living costs such as accommodation, books and household bills, but you must be a full-time student in the UK to receive this loan. Part-time students, EU students and students aged 60 and over can't apply. Unlike the Tuition Fee Loan, a Maintenance Loan is paid directly into the student's bank account at the start of term. Similarly to the Tuition Fee Loan, students do have to pay the loan back, and will be charged interest
- Maintenance Grant: Full-time English students are the only students able to apply for a Maintenance Grant. You are required to submit details about household income, along with your child's course start date, when applying for this grant. Part-time and EU students can't apply, and similarly to the Maintenance Loan, it's paid into your child's bank account at the start of term. Your child doesn't have to pay the grant back, but any grant he or she does receive will reduce the Maintenance Loan they can obtain.
Extra funding may also be available if your child meets certain requirements. For instance, they might be able to get help with the costs of studying abroad, or a Special Support Grant instead of a Maintenance Grant if they are already getting - or qualify for - Income Support or Housing Benefit.
Whichever route you choose to go down, note that there is always support available for your choices.