Money Matters

Private schools are offering generous bursaries to ease the burden of school fees, but don’t expect an easy ride, warns Gillian Upton.

A diverse and inclusive school community is the rationale behind the bursaries and scholarships offered by private schools, and the fact that pupil numbers are at their highest today suggests that a private school education remains an attractive option.

That’s all well and good but there is often the not insignificant matter of finding the fees. Scholarships have shrunk so much that they offer only kudos rather than any financial reward. Most parents will be lucky to have 5% shaved off the annual fees. The average scholarship fee reduction at JAGS, for example, is £1,000.

So efforts must be harnessed around securing a bursary, which is closely means tested – be prepared to bare all. The prize however, can be up to a 100% discount plus the cost of school trips and uniform, so clearly worth the invasion into your private affairs.

And let’s not forget that your child also has to be up to muster. The majority of private schools are rigorously academic and your child has to reach the threshold; bursaries are not a backdoor into private education. Finton House explains: “The ideal bursary applicant will be a child whose achievement is well above average at school, who is keen to learn and able to benefit fully from the
broad curriculum that Finton House offers.”

Royal Russell cherry-picks those individuals “who exhibit a passion for education and an enthusiasm for participation” and is unequivocal about their target market. “Our range of scholarships and bursaries are aimed at attracting talent which we will then nurture.”

Independent schools are mindful of the struggles families face in paying school fees; it’s cold comfort to learn that last year the fee increase across the body of the 1,326 Independent Schools council (ISC) members was the lowest it has been in 20 years but at 3.5% nationally (and 4% in London), still  above the rate of inflation. It doesn’t quite make finding the £16,500 per child per year (the average London fee) and over double that figure for boarding, any easier though.

Share a thought for the schools however, as the vast majority are run as not-for-profit businesses with charitable status and have to balance the rising cost of salaries, pensions, maintenance and utilities with keeping the school affordable. One thing they are reliant on is the income from school fees.

Providing fee assistance via bursaries is hugely expensive and schools have to raise money in order to finance them. Wealthy alumni help, PTAs contribute and schools themselves are sweating their asset by marketing their facilities to sports camps, conferences and visiting theatre productions in school holidays, as incremental revenue streams.

The Whitgift Foundation for example, is one of the largest educational charities in the country and through their support and the school’s own bursary fund, Trinity School provides financial assistance to half of its students.

It was the legacy of the founder of the school to provide education to the young people of Croydon, that is “reflective of the community around them, and the world they will enter when they leave Trinity” says Eugene de Toit, Deputy Headmaster.

Bursaries are the main way schools today strike the balance of achieving a cohort from a wide mix of socio-economic backgrounds. “This year one third of pupils at ISC schools benefited from fee assistance,” says ISC spokesperson Georgina Belcher, adding that the total pot of bursary and scholarship money  stands at £400m across ISC schools. “That’s an increase of nearly £140m since 2011”

Over 35% of boys at Dulwich College are supported by bursaries and scholarships, for example. But the savings can start earlier in the educational journey too. At Newton Prep, it’s the head’s long-term goal to reach 10% of the pupil body on bursaries, which would be 63 pupils; they currently have 16.

“It must never seem patronising, like crumbs from the rich man’s table,” says Head, Alison Fleming. “It’s a partnership for us. I will talk to the headmistress of say, St George’s Church of England Primary School, and it becomes a word of mouth thing.”

Alongside this, Newton Prep has massively increased the number of free after school clubs, covering from 8am to 5.30pm for time-poor parents. The school has a bursary fund of £1.7m, donated by the Newton Trust, alumni and the PTA.

Dr Gary Savage, Head of Alleyn’s has an equally ambitious target, aiming to increase  its bursary fund from £1.3m this year to £1.7m in 2018/19. “We have 9% of senior children on bursaries, we’ll have 10% by next year and 20% by I don’t know when. I’m not even putting a date on it but it will be a stretch.

“We’re all passionate about bursaries but it’s difficult as we’re having to charge fees and that introduces a level of inaccessibility to begin with.”

Alleyn’s does offer up to 100% bursaries and some 68% of bursary holders in 2017 received the full fee, including trips, meals and uniforms. The average bursary at Alleyn’s is 90%.

“I want the school to be accessible to anyone and for them to flourish here from  our local community,” says Dr Savage. “Most of our bursary places are for kids from south-east London and I love that.” It’s clear that schools take the issue of affordability seriously and are doing all they can to be inclusive and truly embedded in their communities.

Latest From Instagram