PARENTS whose children go to private schools have been hit by inflation-busting fee increases this year.

A survey by The Herald shows fees have increased by an average of more than four per cent in 2015/16 - with the highest fees topping £26,000.

Over the past five years fees have risen by more than 15 per cent, with the average annual cost to families climbing from £11,410 in 2010/11 to its current figure of £13,673.

In September, the consumer price index, the Government's preferred measure of inflation, was running at -0.1 per cent while the retail price index fell to 0.8 per cent.

The most expensive independent school in Scotland is Gordonstoun, in Moray, where Prince Charles was educated, which is charging more than £26,000 a year for a senior school day pupil.

The second most expensive school is Fettes College, in Edinburgh, whose former pupils include Tony Blair, which increased its fees by five per cent and now charges £24,375.

Fees for Merchiston Castle School, in Edinburgh, are the third-highest in our survey, at £21,945 after a 4.3 per cent rise.

In Glasgow, fees were highest in Kelvinside Academy, which now charges £11,700 a year, followed by Glasgow Academy, which costs £11,584.

A statement on the Kelvinside Academy website said: "We are conscious of the high cost of independent education to parents, but we believe that we provide exceptional value for money through our small class sizes and highly skilled teaching staff.

"Every effort is made to limit fee increases to the minimum necessary in order to maintain the high quality of education provided by Kelvinside Academy."

The fee rises come at a time when the cost of a private education is increasingly under the spotlight following the economic downturn and a drop in pupil numbers.

In December, new figures revealed that pupil numbers at Scottish private schools have reached their lowest level for a decade with a six per cent decline from a high of 32,065 in 2007 to a low of 30,238 in 2015.

A report by the Bank of Scotland – published before the impact of the credit crunch – warned that members of key Scottish professions were already being priced out of sending their children to fee-paying schools, with teachers, engineers and police officers no longer able to afford a private education.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said all schools worked hard to keep fee increases to a minimum, but stressed that schools were coping with a number of extra costs.

He said: "Any conversation I have had with school bursars this year has been about the increasing overheads that schools are dealing with.

"There has been a 2.5 per cent pay deal in the state sector which schools have to reflect and there have also been pension scheme increases and a change in national insurance contributions for some staff.

"If schools have managed to keep themselves to a four per cent increase in fees then they are doing pretty well."

Mr Edward also highlighted the fact that Scottish private schools have spent millions of pounds on extra bursaries for pupils from poorer backgrounds in recent years.

In 2015/16 Scotland’s independent schools have provided a record number of children with financial help with levels of support rising to £47m, up £2m on the previous year’s total and almost double the 2009 figure.