Bridge over the Troubled Water

No one will deny that the last 18 months have been an unprecedented time for schools.

Aside from having to re-imagine the classroom experience online, practically overnight, their finances have been depleted by the refunds offered to parents, the creation of hardship funds, extra Covid secure measures such as extra staffing and cleaning costs, and the inability to benefit from annual fee rises and incremental revenue from lettings of their premises.

Nonetheless, this hiatus in their earnings is set against a positive drive to find extra funds to provide more generous bursaries to foster social mobility and cohesion. Private schools very much want to be open to local families and, cognisant of affordability becoming increasingly difficult, want to offer easier payment terms.

The Alpha Plus Group for example, has launched a more affordable online school, Portland Place Online which undercuts the cost of a normal day pupil fee by two- thirds. At this hybrid school, children aged 10-16 learn online via video conferencing four days a week and then attend on-site for another day of the week for more practical subjects such as art, design technology, science and sport.

The big question mark hangs over what will happen to school fees for this academic year. Schools froze fees for the last academic year and it is widely believed that after 18 months’ hardship, there will be a hike in fees this year. “It is remarkable that schools were able to hold down fees,” says ISC’s chair Barnaby Lenon. His organisation noted an annual rise in fees of 1.1% last year, the lowest recorded since the ISC began in 1974.

Woldingham offered fee reductions covering the lockdowns during 2020 and 2021 for example, but now Head Dr James Whitehead says, “We have kept our fee increases to a minimum for the year ahead.” At Dulwich College, fees will rise by 2% for the 2021-22 academic year. The College also benefitted from a range of bookings over this summer but they were nothing like the norm. “We do not, however, anticipate reaching pre-pandemic levels of income this year,” says Dr Pyke. Northwood Schools announced their 2021-22 fee levels with a 3.77% hike to £7,140 for Northcote Lodge, Broomwood Hall Upper School and Northwood Senior, and a 3.74% rise to £5,820 at Broomwood Hall Lower School.

Private schools may have queues at the door as lockdown pushed some parents from no-fee state schools into the more resource- heavy independent sector, having been disappointed by the online provision during Covid. Heads of private schools report an increase in demand for this September.

The attraction of the independent sector means that parents have to find the not insubstantial fees. It can be a stretch to find an extra £15,000-£18,000 per child each year, something not lost on schools.

“Careful control of the school’s expenditure means our fees are set as low as possible and, as a registered charity,
all income is invested into our pupils’ education,” says Thames Christian School Head, Dr Stephen Holsgrove. “No extra charge is made for public exam fees, textbooks, extra-curricular clubs, theatre trips, entry to competitions or compulsory trips and field studies. This means a family can manage their monthly outlay without facing additional extras.”

The real game changer is that schools are digging deep to create sizeable bursary funds to offer full school places to more children. The new-style, all-encompassing bursaries cover not just the private education but also uniforms, school trips, meals and transport. Generally speaking, it is the larger schools which offer more bursaries as they are more able to run a bursary fund. Income from lettings, overseas franchised schools, alumni and even the PTA fuel these funds.

Some £455m is provided in means-tested fee assistance for pupils at ISC schools, which represent 80% of independent schools in the UK. Nearly half of all pupils on means-tested bursaries have more than half of their fees remitted. Some one in three pupils receive some sort of assistance.

King’s College School has a goal of offering seven 100% bursaries at age 11 and an additional three 100% bursaries for the 60 pupils the school takes in at age 16. The school has a long-term goal of doubling the number of bursaries.

Putney High School is equally generous, with mainly 100% bursaries, while Newton Prep offers around 99% of fees through bursaries.

The majority of bursaries awarded at Dulwich College are for between 75% and 100% of school fees, for example. Woldingham offers full bursaries to six students to attend the school from Year
7 to Upper Sixth. The school launched a foundation fundraising programme in 2017 as part of its 175th anniversary in order to offer these transformational full bursaries.

Scholarships have shrunk to negligible levels as schools have switched their focus away from these non-means tested schemes. At King’s College School, for example, they have shrunk from £10,000pa to nearer £400. At Thames Christian School, there are five scholarships on offer in Year 7 worth up to 20% of fees. They are made in academics, art, music, performing arts and sport “to encourage the pursuit of excellence,” says Dr Holsgrove.


If your child shows academic potential, but you’d ruled out independent schools because of
the cost, think again, as you may be eligible for assistance with school fees.

London Fee Assistance Consortium schools are working together to highlight the availability of free or subsidised places for children who do well in their entrance exams, but whose families may need support to pay the fees.

Scholarships are typically one-off payments, awarded based on academic/co-curricular merit. Bursaries are means-assessed and usually remain with the child throughout their time at the school.

Bursary programmes can offer a life changing education to children, as well as assistance with other costs like uniform, lunches, music lessons and trips becoming a permanent fixture in their life.

Source: Latymer Upper School

Northwood is offering three scholarships at 7+ – two academic and one music – with a 20% reduction in fees. Each covers one year at the Lower School with guaranteed entry to either Northcote Lodge or Broomwood Hall Upper School at eight. The music scholarship is for either school.

Moreover, schools are offering more flexible payment terms to ease the burden of finding an annual lump sum. At Northwood Schools for example, parents can move to a monthly scheme. At Thames Christian School parents can find the fees on a monthly, termly or annually in advance basis, the latter in exchange for a small discount.

Dulwich College’s Coronovirus Hardship Committee has arranged bespoke payments in particular cases of need for parents; for example, for parents working in the hospitality sector.

Grandparents have also been stepping up to help with fees while finance companies offer savings plans or, like Secta Finance, will broker second charge mortgages on family homes on up to 30-year terms. The key message is to ask the school admissions team what is on offer to ease the burden of fees in the first place. You may be surprised.

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