Paying for private school: what you need is a bursary

The Telegraph, 18/10/14, Christopher Middleton looks at some of the fantastic bursary schemes on offer in HMC member schools. University College School, LondonKing Edward’s School, Birmingham and King’s College School, Wimbledon feature.

“It is amazing what you find out. I went to University College School, in Hampstead in north London, the other day and discovered that there were 52 children there on a 100 per cent bursary.

"We also know that at many schools, there is a surprisingly high threshold beyond which you still qualify for a bursary. Parents can earn £80,000 a year, for example, and still get money off the fees. People do sometimes question the fact that we charge for our service, but it’s well worth paying, if the result is that you get £10,000 off your child’s school fees.”

Even more surprising is that instead of just sitting back and counting the money, many of the schools are keen to attract children who are bright but whose parents can’t afford the fees.

Which is why King Edward’s School, in Birmingham (founded 1552, fees £11,580 per year), employs five people in its development department, raising money for bursaries and other forms of pupil sponsorship.

“We’ve raised £7 million from past alumni, and their money is currently paying for 60 pupils to attend the school free of charge,” says chief master John Claughton, himself a pupil when the school was a direct grant (it went private in 1979).

“Now, we’re aiming for £10 million to fund 100 pupils. We pride ourselves on being the most culturally and ethnically diverse school in the country. Some 60 per cent of our pupils are of Asian origin, and we are a mixture of all religious faiths.”

King Edward’s goes to great lengths to publicise the bursaries it offers among the 130 junior schools in the area. “Nine years ago, we had 370 applicants, 90 of whom were seeking assisted places,” Claughton says.

“Now we get 800 applicants, 500 of whom are wanting assisted places. Like a lot of other children, I came to this school on a free place, and I feel very strongly that we should keep King Edward’s available to bright kids.”

Similarly strong views are expressed by Andrew Halls, head of King’s College School, Wimbledon (fees £19,455 per year). The school’s policy is to offer an increasing number of bursaries to talented children whose parents – teachers, police officers, health workers – have been priced out of private education.

As a former comprehensive schoolboy himself, Halls is keen to attract the brightest, not just the richest boys and girls. “We are in a prosperous area, but there is no question that we have a moral obligation to open the school gates a little wider,” he declares.

The school puts aside 5 per cent of fee income for bursaries. “The people we are aiming to help are those who genuinely can’t afford the fees, and we take this responsibility very seriously. As well as filling in the forms, parents also get a house visit from our bursar.” Which means that if there’s evidence of lavish home improvements, and a Ferrari parked in the driveway, the bursary won’t be forthcoming.

Of course, the best way to get a big fee discount is to move out of the South East; average school fees in the north of England are £9,984, as against £14,544 in London.

Read the full article c The Telegraph (subscription may be required)