two children laughing

What is the real cost of parenting?

By Hannah McDowell Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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The cost of raising a child in the UK, or "the cost of parenting", continues to soar with parents estimated to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on their children by the time they’ve reached the age of 21. Check out our interactive presentation here.

Whilst childcare and education costs may seem like essential expenses that cannot be forgone, there are a huge number of other costs associated with children that collectively add up to put a strain on parents’ pockets across the country. The rise in the number of families with both parents in full-time employment, coupled with the culture of wanting children to excel in both sport and academic subjects, have led to an increase in the amount of afterschool clubs and activities that children are attending. However, a survey conducted by Save the Children found that after-school activities are considered too expensive by almost two-thirds of parents in the UK. Despite this, many are still forking out for these additional classes for fear of their children being shunned at school or missing out on a vital part of their upbringing if they do not attend.

The prevalence of extra-curricular activities is further highlighted by the recent boom in the UK tuition market. Despite ever-growing expenditure figures, parents are collectively still choosing to spend an additional £6bn a year on private tuition iv . The rising demand for tutoring services is commonplace in the news, with the media often emphasising the additional cost to parents for this supplementary form of education. Whilst not diametrically opposed, private tuition and other after-school activities such as sports clubs offer very different value propositions but both sit within the same expenditure bracket. So how does the cost of tuition compare with other after-school activities and the various costs associated with school-aged children? Which are the most popular activities and how does this spending on activities differ according to age and location? Ultimately, how much are parents spending on extra-curricular activities for their children?

Tuition is often viewed as elitist and a luxury form of supplementary education that provides an unfair advantage limited to the well-off families that can afford it. Conor Ryan, director of research at Sutton Trust comments: "While many schools offer a range of sporting and other activities outside regular school hours, there is still a substantial advantage available to those who can afford it. If we are serious about improving social mobility we must narrow the gap in educational opportunities outside of school as well as within the classroom."

But for many children, the one-to-many classroom method of teaching is not enough in order for them to succeed in the subjects they find most difficult and tuition is, therefore, considered by some parents to be almost a necessity. Parents are having to prioritise their spending when it comes to extra-curricular activities which are becoming increasingly unaffordable for many families. The desire to provide children access to the best possible opportunities is conflicting with budgetary constraints. So just how affordable is tuition in comparison to other after-school activity costs? Maths Doctor, the UK’s award-winning provider of live online maths tuition, wanted to investigate how much parents are spending on their children and conducted extensive market research to gain a greater insight into the cost of extra-curricular activities for children across London.

Most popular activities amongst primary children

  1. Swimming lessons
  2. Musical instrument tuition
  3. Drama clubs
  4. Dance
  5. Guides/Scouts

Most popular activities amongst secondary school children

  1. Sport clubs
  2. Musical instrument tuition
  3. Dance
  4. Driving lessons
  5. Guides/Scouts

Interestingly, the day of the week in which children attend extra-curricular activities also varied across the Primary and Secondary school age brackets. Primary school children are much more likely to attend activities after school during the working week, with many parents citing necessary "down-time" as the reason for keeping the weekends free. Other common responses also included a desire to keep weekends free for visiting relatives and going to children’s parties which often take place on a Saturday. In contrast, older children tend to be more likely to attend clubs or, for example, schedule driving lessons at the weekend when they have more free time.

The average cost per hour session of an after-school activity in London is £21.79. Despite the overall average cost being 36% more expensive in London than the rest of the UK, prices still vary significantly across London. South & South-West London is the most expensive place in London for afterschool activities with an average hourly cost of £24.18, compared to North & North-West London, which is the cheapest area with an average cost of £18.40. These price differences in someway reflect the differences in house prices across the city, with the UK’s most expensive borough, Kensington and Chelsea, situated in South-West London

What are your experiences? Do you struggle with the cost of parenting? What after-school activities have you invested in for your child and do they provide value for money?