UK private school accused of holding pupils to ransom over fees

Parents have asked to pay reduced amounts amid coronavirus homeschooling

FGR1C5 Schools games activities on the grounds of Vincent Square which is owned by the private Westminster School

A British private school has been accused of “holding children’s future to ransom” by withholding predicted grades until parents pay the fees for the summer term.

The school has been refusing to submit A-level or GCSE grades to exam boards until the fees for the final term have been paid, The Telegraph reported.

The report said several other schools were believed to be taking the same approach after students were told last month that all GCSE and A-level exams would be cancelled due to closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, with teachers awarding predicted grades instead.

Schools have been told by the exams watchdog Ofqual only to use previous tests and completed work to decide on what grade to submit to the exam boards for moderation.

The school closures and shift to home-schooling for students in Britain has driven many parents of pupils at private schools to campaign successfully for a reduction to fees, which in some cases can be as high as £14,000 (Dh64,162) per term.

Lord Lucas, who owns the Good Schools Guide, said withholding predicted grades over the issue of payment was "disgraceful".

“You cannot under any circumstance hold a child to ransom in the way,” he said.

Schools across the UK were closed on March 20 as part of measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

All schools, both state and privately funded, are closed until further notice. The government has pledged financial support to all educational institutions hit by the crisis.

Britain is experiencing one of Europe’s worst outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, with more than 85,000 confirmed cases.

More than 10,000 people with the virus have died in the UK, a death toll behind only that of the US – where more than 22,000 have died – Italy, Spain and France.

Private open-air spaces, such as playing fields owned by Westminster School, not far from Parliament, could become public recreation areas to ease the strain of the UK's lockdown.

Susan Michie, director of the centre for behaviour change at University College London and a member of the government’s scientific advisory group on Covid-19, has said that private green spaces such as those managed by the schools could provide an outlet for safer exercise.

The behavioural scientist said the move would encourage continued adherence to the lockdown throughout society.

“We know from the evidence that if groups feel that the government is recognising the situation they are in and addressing it, they are more likely to trust and more likely to adhere,” she said.

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