False savings

Army warns David Cameron on cuts to servicemen\’s school fees
David Cameron has been warned that the Army will be hit by a damaging wave of resignations if ministers make fresh cuts in allowances for the school fees of servicemen’s children.

Now, it\’s certainly possible to claim that this is just horrible. Service kiddies getting sent to public schools on the taxpayers\’ money! Bastards!

However. That\’s not actually what it is.

The Ministry of Defence spends almost £180 million a year on the education allowance, which is intended to help military families keep their children in the same school while their parents move around the world to different postings. The allowance is sometimes derided as an officers’ perk, but all members of the Armed Forces are eligible for the scheme.

About half of the 5,500 claimants come from “other ranks”. Changes announced last year will cut the cost of the allowance by almost 20 per cent over four years.

It\’s an allowance that sends children to boarding schools. This is what gives the families the flexibility to move around the world.

At larger bases (at least they used to) the forces (usually the RAF I think?) run primary schools using the English syllabi. I went to one in Naples for example. But when we\’re all starting to think about GCSEs and A levels, continuity of schooling is important. You will note, for example, that not every school follows the same syllabus…..

So, boarding schools. And there are a couple of State ones out there. But no where near enough to cater to the number of children desiring such education.

Now, whether the MoD pays for kids to go to a private boarding school, or sets up publicly funded boarding schools, or finances secondary schools at bases (not a bad idea actually, I\’d bet the results would be damn good) where families are sent to doesn\’t matter all that much in the scheme of things. But one of those three must be done and which is the cheapest? In the latter cases, pay entirely for the necessary infrastructure? Or in the former, be able to hang off the infrastructure already there?

Well quite. So why all this fuss?

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are determined that the Continuity of Education Allowance should go only to those who really need it. These changes are aimed at saving £28 million a year.

“We must make sure that all allowances are fair and appropriate.”

Well, you  see, among civil servants, the Diplomatic Corps get an even sweeter deal: they get all boarding school fees paid, not just a percentage like the military. So do the British Council.

But the beancounters and civilians at the MoD don\’t get it. And they\’ve hated that fact for decades.

6 thoughts on “False savings”

  1. It may have changed a bit but when I was serving the allowance also covered flights for the 3 main holidays but not half terms. Most of the people I knew who claimed the allowance preferred to send their children to a boarding school close to grand parents or other family members if they couldn’t afford the extra flights.

    My wife was teaching in a services school when I first met her. This was before the national curriculum but SCEA had a policy of having the same curriculum in all schools to make it easy for the children of parents who moved around on trickle postings, as opposed to moving whole regiments. She said they were also much better at keeping notes and sending them in to the next school with the children than the “civilian” schools she worked in before joining SCEA.

    It is also worth noting that the teachers employed by SCEA were all British and they had a great package – free accommodation, overseas allowances, duty free shopping, officer status and free travel back for the main holidays. I suspect that this is something else that the MOD bureaucrats get jealous over.

    Tim adds: Back in my day (tee hee, I’m getting old enough to say that) it was 2 flights a year. And yes, half terms could be awkward. Spent one, maybe two couple alone in the family house while everyone else was abroad.

  2. It does seem like bollocks. The bloke warning the PM is concerned that he won’t be able to send his sons to Eton?!! Is that the only boarding school in the country?

  3. “Is that the only boarding school in the country?”

    It’s the only seriously good one (unless Winchester counts). The top schools are otherwise largely day schools, aren’t they? Or am I out of date on this?

  4. Half terms in boarding schools were (maybe still are) traditionally only 3 days I think, perhaps for this reason? I know I used to get permission to take 5 days because Pembroke was a bit of a hike from Petworth for 3 days.

    Anyway, the major oil companies offer pretty much the same deal. Most locations will have a school (either independent or run by the company) which caters for kids up to 12. The main oil towns will have schools catering for older children, otherwise the choice is to send the brats back home to a boarding school or quit expat assignments for a few years. The companies cough up the fees if they keep you overseas, I knew a Dutch couple who lived alone in Sakhalin whilst their teenage children attended school in Holland. A more balanced family you could not hope to meet, as it happens.

  5. “the Army will be hit by a damaging wave of resignations if ministers make fresh cuts in allowances for the school fees ”

    But aren’t we also being told that the Army is over-manned, especially amongst the longer-serving officers & NCOs (the group most likely to have children at secondary school)?

    So rather than pay out lots of expensive redundancy, we slash the education allowance, wait for lots of them to resign, and then quietly reinstate the allowance for the ones we want to stay on.

    Win-win for the taxpayer?

  6. It’s worth noting that the servicemen have to pay a proportion of the fees and CEA is capped (at about £5,800 per term, or so). So Eton would be way of the radar for the vast majority of service children.

    I’ve taken it up – and my daughter has just completed her A-levels. It’s cost us a five-figure sum out of our own pocket over the years, and we’ve hated the fact that she’s had to live away from us – but if we hadn’t done it, she’d have been to seven secondary schools. Which would have been hugely disrupting.

    The attacks on CEA are one of the reasons I’m exercising my exit point next year (that and the hugely shitty housing situation – I’ve had enough of fighting Defence Estates more than any other foe).

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