Seizing the Opportunity

One unexpected silver lining of Omnicron is that schools are extending their range of help in finding private school fees. To be fair, it began before the pandemic and has accelerated with the start of the new academic year this month, which many believe is when the real recovery begins.
“We’ve come out of the pandemic with a greater sense of social conscience; I’m blown away by all the good things that have come out of this crisis,” says Julie Robinson, Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents over 1,300 independent schools across the UK.
Bigger bursary funds, easier payment terms, an extension of hardship funds in some cases, and a less formal interview process are in play to make it easier for parents to access funds and for schools to foster greater social mobility and cohesion to be more relevant to local families.

• Identify the three or four schools you feel would be the best fit for your child – do you want, for example,
a school whose philosophy is to welcome families from many different and interesting backgrounds?
• Before visiting the schools and registering your child, explore the schools’ websites for details of their bursaries offer – their means-tested awards that pay all or part of the fees
• Many schools share full details about how many bursaries are awarded every year, the eligibility criteria eg. household income and assets, the range of bursaries on offer (from 10% to 100%), what ‘extras’ are included eg. uniform, lunches, trips, and how to apply
• If your child is academically very bright, you might also be awarded a scholarship after sitting the entrance examinations in addition to a mean-tested bursary
• Always contact the schools’ registrars with any questions; they will be happy to advise.Source: Dulwich College

The not so good news is that schools have returned to pre-pandemic fee level hikes. Schools absorbed zero fee hikes in the first year of the pandemic, set them around 3% in the last academic year but this year increases are well over that, with some as high as 6%.
“The cost-of-living crisis means that the cost of running schools has gone up, too” says ISC’s Robinson. “They have to cover ever-increasing costs and maintain staff levels.”
Wimbledon High’s fees have risen this year between 4.5-6%, hikes in schools in the Alpha Plus group average 4.5% and at Whitgift it’s 4.7% while Thames Christian School and Dulwich College have increased by 6%.
Schools are reeling from the cost-of-living crisis, with already depleted coffers from running hardship funds, issuing refunds, absorbing extra staffing costs and missing out on ancillary revenues from letting premises.

Northwood Schools – now part of Dukes Education – has set their fee increases this year in line with others, between 3.8-5.5% – and cites the economies of scale it now benefits from, being part of the largest independent schools group in the UK.
“There has been a concerted effort to keep fee increases to a minimum,” says Principal Kevin Doble.
Despite the fee hikes, independent schools are focused on helping those academically-minded children whose parents could not otherwise afford private school fees. Northwood “has a keen interest in providing access across the range and it’s become more central over the last year,” says Doble. “We’re very keen to connect with families in our neck of the woods and provide an opportunity to join. Dukes is offering a deeper opportunity and support from central HQ.”
Rather than a formal, publicised process, Northwood works under the radar, in conversation with parents who pass the means assessment. Three children are currently being educated on a no-fees basis, which includes trips and uniforms. “We give them a boost at the outset in the hope that they can pick up the fees later on,” says Doble.
Scholarships are offered at 11 and 13 when children have already established their skills, and not at the younger stages. “I don’t want children to be coached into performing in a certain way; it can be counter-productive to their wellbeing,” explains Doble. Northwood also offers easier payment terms.

This picture is replicated across London to a greater or lesser extent. One of the most generous is Dulwich College with a massive 205 pupils on bursaries, up from 160 five years ago, being paid from a £4m-strong bursary pot. The majority are on 100% bursaries and the remainder on over 75% bursaries. The College hasn’t set a target to reach as it feels it could drive decisions, and is bent on “increasing the number year-on-year; that’s very much the direction of travel, as long as it’s incremental,” says Dr Cameron Pyke, Deputy Master External. “We are absolutely committed to supporting pupils. It’s a core thing of who we are. An extra ten bursaries have been added this year.” This year’s cohort of assisted pupils will include five from Ukraine, while the College has also employed Ukrainian mums as translators and TAs too.
A smaller pot, of £1.4m, funds scholarships at Dulwich and these are a mark of distinction in the usual subjects of art, music, sport and academic performance but with discounts in the region of 10%.
As schools focus on bursaries this level of discount has become the norm for scholarships across the board. “There’s definitely a trend towards means-testing the amount so that schools can direct their resources to where they’re needed most and target the families who really need that discount,” says ISC’s Robinson.

Dulwich’s fees this year have been hiked by 6%, explains Dr Nick Black, Director of Admissions at Dulwich. “In the worst part of the pandemic we didn’t raise fees at all and last year we were very aware of the impact of Covid and kept them to an absolute minimum (2%), but this year the increase has essentially been driven by the cost of living.”
Bursaries are also part of the DNA at Whitgift and being full the school has the reserves to provide 17 pupils 100% bursaries and 750 pupils across the whole school part bursaries/fee concessions. The school has launched a new initiative, ‘Whitgift For All’ with the aim of providing at least two more full bursaries per year.
“Fostering social mobility is a massive part of who we are,” says Whitgift Head, Chris Ramsey. “At 11+ we have 60% of pupils from state schools and at 13+ the figure is slightly less. We offer easier payment terms, either termly, monthly or spread across payment plans and our fee office spends lots of time talking and re-packaging.” At 4.7% fee hikes for this academic year Whitgift is on the lower side compared with other schools. Whitgift scholarships are more generous, averaging 35% but down from 50% some years ago. Emanuel prefers to call bursaries ‘all-fee assistance’, explains Stuart Turner, Deputy Head Co-Curriculum, Partnerships & Admissions, and he is vocal about the contribution fee-assisted pupils bring to the school. “We get amazing things from fully-funded pupils; their talent and vibrancy rubs off on everybody,” he says.

•We all want the best for our children. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do want to make sure they have every opportunity to live a fulfilled and happy life, whatever they choose.

We know that money isn’t everything but it does provide us with choice, assuring us that we can consider options. It can deliver a good education and open up opportunities. The key to this and anything we want to achieve in life that requires capital, is to start saving.

There is no silver bullet or magic solution for school fees planning, and saving isn’t the only option. Using holistic family financial planning, specific life goals can be achieved; saving for your child’s education, moving home, or retiring earlier than you might have thought possible.
Comprehensive financial planning can make all the difference when helping your child get the best start in life.

Source: Gold Wealth Management

For the last five years Emanuel has been running The Battersea Rise Trust 43 to mark the school’s 430-year anniversary and to provide funds for 43 100% bursaries. The school is almost there with 37 fully-funded places this year and a further 22 pupils who will receive some form of means tested fee assistance. The Trust is funded by generous donations from private individuals, alumni and fundraising, such as the sponsored Henley to Barnes row this month. Plus, there are 15 scholarships available each year. “We are looking to give back and focus on transformational bursaries; they are all 100%, focusing on the lowest income bracket and we include fees, trips, uniforms, sports equipment and so on.
“The number of bursaries has definitely grown, particularly since Rob Milne has become Head as one of his family members benefitted from a bursary.” Billing is termly but the school is looking to offer other payment options soon.

Eaton House The Manor set up a Foundation as a separate registered charity to fund 16 pupils on 100% bursaries from Year 3 upwards; this year the figure will be 23 pupils. “As a family business we’ve always done it on a needs basis with no targets,
so it was always under the radar up until now,” explains Lucie Cawood, Principal
at the school, which is now part of Dukes Education. One thing it has always offered is a monthly payment scheme, while discounts for scholarships are “not a huge amount; it’s the recognition really,” says Cawood. GDST schools have a long 150-year legacy of helping girls into the private sector, originally referred to as working class girls, explains Head Fionnuala Kennedy of Wimbledon High, “We maintain that legacy,” she says. “Our 11+ offers are means-blind and we work solely on merit and our 100% bursaries include the cost of uniforms, laptops, trips, music lessons, rowing clubs and so on. This year Wimbledon is offering eight bursaries, of which six are at 100% but Kennedy is clear on her objective. “It’s not about social mobility but making sure there are no unnecessary barriers in the way,” she says. In addition, Wimbledon offers scholarships at three points of entry – at 11+, Year 9 and Sixth Form – with discounts of between 5-20%.
Woldingham offers bursaries of up to 100% of day fees and Linda Underwood, Admissions Registrar, notes the life-changing impact they can make. “Typically, bursary students throw themselves into the wider co-curricular opportunities and take on positions of leadership. We have had students supported by bursaries who have become Head Girl and won places at Oxbridge and medical schools,” she says.

Woldingham spends around £1.4m per annum on all forms of fee assistance and more than a third of students currently receive some form of fee reduction.
The school’s Development team raises funds to increase the number of 100% transformational bursaries, with a goal of 30 bursaries by 2030. Scholarships trigger a discount of between 5-20%.
Thames Christian School runs a self-funded bursary pot and nearly one third of all pupils benefit from fee assistance, some by 100% bursaries. Referring to this year’s 6% fee hike, head Dr Stephen Holsgrove says: “As the school moves forward in its new building, an income stream will be generated from lettings which will help improve affordability.”
In a move “to be fair and open to parent needs,” Finton House School moved to monthly direct debits before the pandemic, explains Guy Collins-Down, Bursar, “having seen affordability as a potential long-term issue. Small changes like this can help parents spread the burden and plan ahead. In the past few years, we have seen the importance that parents put on giving their children the best possible start in life, even if this means making sacrifices to pay for education.”

If easier payments terms don’t ease the financial burden and your child is not awarded a bursary then what to do? It can be a stretch to find an extra £15,000-£18,000 each year for each child. Tapping grandparents for an early inheritance for their grandchildren is one option; another is to link up with finance companies and arrange a savings plan, and yet another is to broker a second charge mortgage on your home over a long term.
Whichever route you choose, planning ahead is the key piece of advice. Lawrence Gold, MD of Gold Wealth Management, has been inundated with enquiries from cash-strapped parents. “The new term is the Bank of Grandpa and Grandma,” he quips but on a more serious note says: “Working with
a financial adviser can be one of the best decisions you can make for your family and your family’s future.
“Inflation rates are skyrocketing and interest rates are rising rapidly this year so a savings plan is key. And I can’t stress enough the need to take out life insurance, critical illness cover and income protection in case the main earner cannot work.”
Don’t rule out the independent school sector if your child shows academic potential. Take advantage of the many and varied options you have to ease the burden of finding the fees.

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