Can’t afford private school fees? You may not have to pay

The Telegraph, 17.10.15, more than 140,000 pupils at private schools don’t pay all – or any – of their fees. James Connington explores the bursary route. HMC leading independent school Latmyer Upper features.

Many parents assume that private school is not a financially viable option for their children’s education – unaware that every year across the UK, thousands of scholarships and bursaries are granted, providing access to top-class schooling to children from families who otherwise would be unable to afford it.

According to the Independent Schools Council 2015 Census, 28 per cent of pupils at member schools – a total of 143,510 pupils – currently receive financial help from their school, support with a total value of over £700 million.

Zahra Ghanem is a single mother from London whose son Aos, 16, and daughter Hadeel, 13, are among this group. They attend the prestigious Latymer Upper School, a private secondary school in Hammersmith, London.

Both are on full academic bursaries covering all tuition fees, exams, uniform costs, trips and extras.

"According to the Independent Schools Council 2015 Census, 28 per cent of pupils at member schools currently receive financial help."

When Aos was in Year Five, aged 10, Zahra heard about a fellow mother who was applying to City of London School for Boys [CLSB] for her children. “She explained it was a private school, but that a child as bright as Aos might be able to get a bursary from them. I hadn’t known anything about these financial assistance schemes before, and his primary school hadn’t mentioned it to me.”

Zahra’s attempt to introduce her son to the idea of private school wasn’t an instant sucess. Aos found the atmosphere at CLSN, when he went to look round, unwelcoming. But a teacher at his primary encouraged his mother to keep doing research in case she found a school that was a better fit.

Zahra initially tried to get Aos into a couple of London grammar schools, for which he passed the entrance exams. “It gave him much more confidence,” she says, “so when his Year Six teacher discussed Latymer Upper School with Aos, telling him that her son was applying there as well, he became more keen on the idea.”

They applied to Latymer two weeks before the closing date and Zahra took Aos to sit the entrance tests.

“The registrar rang to say he had done well and that she was coming to do a home visit during which he’d be interviewed. And after all of that she called to offer him a place,” she remembers. “I cried. Even Aos cried. 'I’m flying,’ he said, and ran to tell his head teacher.”

Aos received a full academic bursary worth around £20,000. Three years later, his sister also applied and was offered a place with the same 100 per cent bursary.

Zahra admits she was nervous about how her children would adapt to their new environment. “Some parents told me Aos would be treated differently because all the other children would be wealthy. One even told me they would make him wear a badge saying he was a bursary student. But that turned out to be completely wrong – Aos didn’t find anything different between him and any child who paid the full amount.

"When he went into Year Eight, he even told me that the bursary is not something to be ashamed of, you have to be proud of it.”

"Some parents told me Aos would be treated differently because all the other children would be wealthy... [but] Aos didn’t find anything different."
Zahra Ghanem

Aos and Hadeel are now thriving at Latymer. Aos finished in the top five per cent of the Biology Challenge [a national science competition] and has attended masterclasses at Imperial College London and the Royal Institution, while Hadeel scored the most merit points in her year during her first term.

Their mother believes the school has benefited them outside the classroom, too. “They learn how to behave sensibly and safely on the way to and from school, how to behave safely online, and I’m glad to say they also learn to appreciate the things their family do for them.”

“Ultimately we were lucky,” says Zahra now. “If the Year Six teacher had not known about Latymer Upper School or the bursaries, the children would never have got there. I think primary schools need to keep parents better informed about options that might be available. After Aos got in, many parents came to ask me about things, instead of going to the school for information.

"Now it is different; Latymer Upper School has reached out to primary schools, and Hadeel started there with eight other students from her school.”

“I would tell any parent who thinks their child is capable to seize the opportunity and go for it. Why not?”

More information

Application dates for senior private schools vary, but generally close mid to late November the year before entry.

There is likely to be extra paperwork and requirements to be met for those applying for financial assistance, so check if that will affect the deadlines.

At academically selective private schools, places are awarded on merit, so knowing the child’s ability level is key. Children are normally assessed through entrance tests, at least one interview, and potentially a home visit for those applying for financial assistance.

In addition to bursaries for academically bright children, some schools offer music, sport and other scholarships for those with a specialist talent.

To find out more, contact the Independent Schools Council. The Good Schools Guide also provides comprehensive information for a huge number of schools, and personalised services (for a fee).

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