Enrolment Renewals: Keep your families in the loop or risk not recovering school fees

We have previously written about the importance of maintaining a clear and high quality enrolment contract. Doing so sets the terms and conditions that you want your students and families to comply with and gives you a tool to ensure that expectations are followed within your school community.

However, simply setting and forgetting your enrolment contract is not enough. Your enrolment contract needs to be an active document, with any changes brought to the attention of families before they sign.

Just rolling out new terms and conditions or sending a simple notification about changes, including fee increases, may not be enough to create a binding agreement with the families.

Whitworth v Christian Brothers College Adelaide

A decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia provides a clear example of the risk to schools of using enrolment documents which don’t provide sufficient protection.

In Whitworth v Christian Brothers College Adelaide [2019] SASC 154, the school was unable to recover unpaid tuition fees from parents in circumstances where they hadn’t clearly set out the terms of the enrolment contract.

The student’s mother had executed the enrolment contract with the School in 2009. The School sent out annual forms with any relevant fee increases or updated terms at the beginning of each year. These forms would essentially form the re-enrolment agreement with the school.

In 2017, the student and the mother had experienced a breakdown of their relationship to the point that the student was no longer living with his mother and the mother had little to no knowledge or control of his whereabouts and movements. The School continued to assist the student through the difficulties of this relationship.

The student’s mother did not sign the forms sent to her for the 2017 and 2018 school year. She also did not pay the relevant school fees for those years.

Accordingly, the School sought to recover those fees from her on the basis of the enrolment contract she had entered into in 2009.

During the course of the proceeding, the Court examined the enrolment contract, its terms and the relationship between the School and the mother. The Court observed that the enrolment contract did not contain an express term that the agreement would continue beyond the first year of enrolment. The enrolment contract was written in a way that its proper construction was one of a series of enrolment contracts rather than a continuation of the original contract. The contract was not clear that the relationship between the College and the mother was ongoing as there were no express terms to that effect. Furthermore, the enrolment contract specifically stated that fees would be reviewed each year. On this basis, the Court suggested that this could be taken to mean contracts would be renewed each year.

ULTIMATELY THE COURT HELD that the school was unable to recover the unpaid fees (approximately $15,000) from the mother as the enrolment documents were not entirely clear and the original enrolment contract had been superseded.

How can Brennan Law Partners assist? 

The enrolment contract is a critical document as it forms the foundations of the school’s relationship with its families. The above decision highlights the need to ensure that the terms of your school’s enrolment are clear and set out the ongoing nature of the agreement with your families. It also emphasises the need for your re-enrolment processes each year to be effective.

Accordingly, we recommend that you review your enrolment agreements and processes to ensure they properly protect your school. Contact us now to learn more.

If you have any questions regarding any information in this BLP Brief, we welcome you to contact us at any time.
This is meant as a guide only and should not be taken as legal advice.

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