Cutting The Cost Of Private Education

Cutting The Cost Of Private Education

Jenny Booth has the lowdown on how to secure bursaries and scholarships

The annual average fee for a day pupil at an independent school reached £14,300 this year, with prices at in-demand London schools several thousand pounds higher. But consider this: one third of all families are not paying full fees. And a lucky one per cent are not paying any fees at all. In fact, more than £1 billion was subsidised from the bills of independent school pupils last year, with £422 million targeted specifically at less well-off families. So, how is it done?

1. Schools Want to Help

Never be ashamed to ask about financial support. For schools with charitable status, opening their doors to a wide cross-section of society is often written into their core objectives. They are actively on the lookout for talented children who will enhance their reputation. They will have information on their websites about what they offer.

“Schools are committed to widening access and are keen to encourage children of any background to come to our schools,” said Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council. “Bursaries help to create a more balanced student population, which is hugely important for many schools.”

2. Scholarships & Bursaries

These form the majority of the financial help on offer. Scholarships are usually purely academic, awarded to the top achievers in entrance exams irrespective of ability to pay, and offering up to a 40% reduction in fees. More interesting if you are on a budget are bursaries, which are means-tested. These can go up to 100% of the fees – and often more, as the school may also help with uniforms, music lessons and trips. The trend is towards schools offering more bursaries, and the value of the support offered this way grows each year. “We are means blind. That’s the key thing. We offer a place or even scholarship to anyone, depending on how well they do in the exam, and if they are a girl we think will thrive we bend over backwards to get them to come here,” said Suzie Longstaff, headteacher of Putney High School for Girls, where one in five girls receives either a scholarship or a bursary. Adds Kate Reynolds, Head, Royal High School Bath, “Our students come from all over the UK and overseas, and from a variety of backgrounds – our community is richer because of the social and cultural diversity of our student body. This includes a significant number of talented pupils who are enabled to access education through our bursary programme. We are proud that the opportunities and years of experience in putting girls first ensure that The Royal High School Bath is open to all.”

3. Non-academic Awards

Many schools also reward talent in choral singing, music, sport, art and drama. “Good schools want able children – whether they are academic superstars, winners on the sports fields or masters of art, music or drama. They raise schools’ results, add silverware to their trophy cabinets and lustre to their reputation,” according to The Good Schools Guide. Check which age group such awards apply to. You may need to gather evidence of your child’s abilities, such as certificates or school reports.

4. Other Forms of Support

More than a third of the £1 billion in fee subsidies is paid to families who qualify for other reasons. These include discounts offered to siblings, to the children of teaching staff, and to parents in an eligible profession, such as the clergy or HM Forces. If your child is reception age, you can offset the Government’s Early Years childcare support against fees. There is a plethora of less well known sources of funds, such as the Ewelme Exhibition Endowment set up in the 14th Century by Lady Alice de la Pole, and ACT, a body that exists to help the children of actors. Get googling.

5. Apply Early

You need to apply for financial support well in advance, around two years before the date your child would start at the school. “Bursarial funds are strictly limited and invariably run out before the end of each school year,” warns Best Schools, an education consultancy. You’ll find that support varies considerably from school to school. Older and better-known schools often have deep pockets, as they have had centuries for grateful ex-pupils to bequeath
them endowments: eg Christ’s Hospital, in Sussex, and King Edwards, in Witley, Surrey, both founded in 1553. Single sex girls schools tend to have smaller pots of cash, but schools in the Girls’ Day School Trust have a good range of awards.

6. Financial Eligibility

Your chances will be stronger if your family income is below £30,000 pa, and if it’s much above £60,000 you are unlikely to qualify. Nothing can be taken for granted, however: eligibility varies from school to school, and head teachers use their discretion in choosing which families to assist. “For me, it is about the student, and whether you believe they will really benefit from joining the school,” says Liz Laybourn, head of Burgess Hill Girls. “You get a feel for who’s a scholar.”

7. Assessment

Filling in the forms is a time-consuming job (think tax return), as you must list all your income and assets. Check the deadline – it may be earlier than the entrance exams. Some schools receive so many applications for bursaries that they charge a non-refundable admin fee of up to £200, and employ outside assessors to do the due diligence. Be prepared for a home visit, and some probing questions on how many holidays you take, whether you have a second home, and how you’re paying for the car in your drive.

8. No Pressure

Don’t allow your child to get their hopes too high. Going in for a bursary is a gamble with no guarantee of success. Children usually do better if you don’t pressure them. The approach: “Let’s see what happens”, is more effective than “We need you to do this to save us money”.

9. Value for Money

When you’re weighing up affordability, remember that for younger children private schools can save you money on childcare, because of the wraparound school day. Meals and after-school clubs are also usually free. And you’re saving the taxpayer money. “Independent schools save the taxpayer £3.5 billion a year from students not being in state education, and contribute £13.7 billion to the economy,” says Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council.

10. A Warning

If you succeed, you will be reassessed every year, and the award can be varied if your circumstances change. Don’t forget to read the small print. Some schools will insist you repay the subsidies you’ve received if you decide to take your child away from the school.

Good luck!

Further Information

Independent Schools Council: an umbrella body representing more than 1,350 UK private schools. Carries out an annual census on fees and financial support. Includes contact details for all member schools. Website has a lot of helpful advice.

Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference:  an association of the head teachers of 283 independent schools in the UK, Crown dependencies and the Republic of Ireland. Website includes advice, and case studies of people whose lives have been transformed by bursaries.

The Good Schools Guide:  subscription service to help you find the best school for your child. The bible for information about all UK schools, state and private sector.

Best Schools: a paid-for consultancy to help you select the best school for your child. Website carries advice on applying for bursaries, plus a short list of unusual sources of grants and funding. If you become a client, they will provide an eGuide titled How To Save Money On School Fees.

London Independent Schools Fee Assistance: a website which collates a number of notable private schools in London, pointing you to details of the financial help they offer.