Some south-west independent schools have frozen or reduced fees in response to COVID-19, while others continue to charge as normal as students learn from home.
The number of days Victorian students have spent remote learning continues to grow with more than 29 weeks or 145 days spent at home in 2020/21.
Warrnambool's King's College principal Allister Rouse said in 2020 the college took the proactive step to reduce fees from prep to year 12.
He said this year's fees remained the same and the college board would set its 2022 fees in October.
He said, for example, it gave its prep families a 25 per cent reduction in fees from its 2019 rate ($4692 to $3500 in 2020 and 2021), its year seven families a 14 per cent reduction ($5924 to $5200) and its year 12 families a 12 per cent reduction ($7026 to $6200).
Mr Rouse said levies were charged separately and covered camps, excursions and other incidental costs.
Where those activities didn't run in 2020, they were refunded and the same would occur at year's end.
He said the college hadn't seen a reduction in expenses because its wages was its main cost and staff had continued working.
He said the college did not receive any JobKeeper payments.
Its four-year-old kindergarten fees were also refunded in 2020 as the state government made it free due to COVID-19.
He said the college introduced a care fund for parents to apply for additional financial assistance on top of the reduced fees and a total of 35 families applied in 20/21.
Emmanuel College principal Peter Morgan said as a low fee school it had kept its fee rise to a minimum as the college faced additional costs due to COVID-19.
He said in 2021, college families paid a 'global fee' of $4700 per student which included costs and learning expenses, regardless of year level, to help families budget.
He said some extra-curricular opportunities students chose had additional costs.
He said school fees normally rose annually using the educational CPI as a reference point.
"The change in fees at Emmanuel College between 2020 and 2021 was the lowest in 10 years at one per cent," Mr Morgan said.
He said its running costs, even in remote learning, were very similar, as salaries - its largest outgoing - remained the same.
"With schools providing both remote learning and onsite supervision of students for approved workers there is an additional cost of employing staff to cover the onsite component while the balance of staff work from home," he said.
In 2020 and 2021, Emmanuel College provided fee credits where it was impossible to run school camps and extra-curricular activities.
He said the college provided fee relief to families on an individual basis where circumstances, such as loss of employment, negatively impacted family income and arrangements were made on a needs basis.
"Budget planning for 2022 is currently underway and fee increases are always kept to a minimum even while operating costs, including salary costs, increase annually," Mr Morgan said.
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The Hamilton and Alexandra College principal Andrew Hirst said in 2020 it provided a remote learning discount of 12.5 per cent off its term two tuition fees.
Fees to attend the college in 2020 ranged from $5276 for prep and $20,000 for year 12.
In 2021, the college refunded the majority of boarding fees for the periods of absence due to lockdowns.
Dr Hirst said no further cuts were made as the college charged its co-curricular costs separately and no savings were made.
"College staff have never worked harder, both to ensure they deliver and maintain high academic standards and expectations, but also in supporting student welfare," Dr Hirst said.
It is one of seven schools shortlisted in the Best Remote Learning Program at the 2021 Australian Education Awards.
"Over the past 18 months, the college has received considerable praise for the online continuous learning program we have and continue to deliver," he said.
Dr Hirst said the board was working towards a minimal fee rise next year.
Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said since last year, schools had taken a wide range of actions to ensure students remained enrolled when parents had financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19.
"Most schools are starting to look at their budgets for next year," Ms Green said. "This includes assessing the impact of the pandemic on parents' finances and their capacity to pay fees."
She said at this stage the overall impact wasn't clear and measures varied widely, depending on the circumstances of individual schools and parents.
She said a common response had been for schools to deal with this on case-by-scale basis. "In some cases they've offered fee deferrals and a number of schools have offered fee discounts," Ms Green said.
Catholic Education Commission of Victoria executive director Jim Miles said Catholic schools continued to strive to keep fees as low as possible to remain accessible to all.
He urged families facing difficulties with fees due to the pandemic or otherwise, to discuss their situation with their school.
"We don't want to see any child miss out on a Catholic education because of their family's financial circumstances," Mr Miles said.
More than one-in-five Victorian children attend one of 498 Catholic primary, secondary and special services schools across the state, he said.
Mercy Regional College said it had still been able to proceed with all school camps, with the exception of year 10, which would hopefully proceed in term four.
Some camps, excursions and events had costs subsidised.
The college has made no decision about fees and charges for 2022 but that would be assessed when it completed its budget process.
The Standard alsocontacted Hamilton's Monivae College but did not receive a response by deadline.
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