Why private school bursaries really matter

The Telegraph, 05/02/15, HMC member Sarah Fletcher, head teacher of City of London School writes about the important of bursaries.

Samuel Akinfala joined City of London School at 16, from St Thomas the Apostle College, a comprehensive school in Peckham where 60 per cent of pupils receive free school meals. The award of a bursary changed his life dramatically.

“I had never considered Oxbridge before my time at City of London School. I’m glad the ambitious environment there enlightened and motivated me,” he says. Sam went on to read Engineering at Somerville, Oxford and he now works for BP.

Joseph Ataman had not even considered a university education. “Before I crossed the threshold of the City of London School, eagerly greeted by a handshake from the head boy, the very idea of going to university seemed alien.

“It has been a privilege to be a member of such an inspirational community. I have cherished every day and I cannot thank enough all those supporters of CLS who, through their generosity and commitment, have made this possible.” Joseph went on to be a choral scholar reading Geography at Cambridge and is now a journalist in the Middle East

Quite simply, bursaries have the power to transform lives; instilling ambition and opening doors to future careers that otherwise would have remained closed.

Bursaries occupy a well-established place in independent schooling, and rightly so. The scale and scope of the bursary scheme at the City of London School is one of the best things about the school, informing as it does the whole ethos of our community.

Currently 80 boys from low income families are on 100 per cent means tested bursaries, with over two hundred past pupils having been in receipt of such awards over the last few years.

More often than not their backgrounds are such that they would not naturally have aspired to study at top universities, nor would they have had the tools to do so. You only have to listen to their stories to understand the impact the scheme has had.

Nor does it stop there. Those on bursaries bring with them an enthusiasm for learning that rubs off on everyone in our school. Their presence helps all our pupils to develop greater sensitivity and social awareness and gives them a window on the realities of life in the capital.

Crucially, philanthropy is infectious. It informs your whole outlook on life and means that bursaries have a far wider reach than might at first be appreciated, extending well beyond the recipients themselves.

Our whole community is wedded to the belief that diversity matters. Respect for everyone, whatever their background, is true citizenship, and is the core of a really good education.

I have a personal reason for supporting bursaries too. Although the early 20th century feels increasingly foreign, philanthropy then, as now, could make an impact which echoes down the generations.

My grandfather was from a mining family in the Black Country. Claustrophobic, like me, he refused to work down the pit but took on all the worst jobs in the potteries and elsewhere, educating himself as best he could at night school, while supporting his family during the day, as his older brother and uncle were incapacitated by injuries.

He found his life transformed completely by the generosity of a local man who recognised his potential and who supported him financially so that he could study full-time for a teaching qualification. He eventually became a primary school head, first in Tipton then in Ashby, with a kindness few could rival.

His life, and vicariously mine, would have been totally different but for the opportunity given him by one man who recognised his worth and who saw the value of education in liberating lives.

There are other ways the independent sector can and must work with different communities and schools to raise standards across the board and to bring opportunity to as many young people as possible.

Engaging in outreach is important, whether it is partnering or sponsoring another school, or joining forces in other ways to raise aspirations.

The possibilities are many and the style of collaboration will vary from area to area, dictated by relative strengths and local needs.

I am proud to lead a school that takes this responsibility seriously too, engaging in significant partnerships with other London schools. It shouldn't be an either / or however.

The independent sector has rightly been challenged to contribute what it can to support social mobility and to promote equal opportunities, and bursaries make a significant contribution to this too. We must give as many young people as possible the opportunity to flourish.

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