Private schools: more parents pay less

The Telegraph, 23/03/15, with a wider range of scholarships, a greater number of families can benefit from a reduction in fees, finds Julie Henry. HMC member James Hodgson, headmaster of Bedford School  is quoted and HMC member schools Benenden, Downe House, King’s Canterbury, King Edward's BirminghamRoedean, TonbridgeTrinityWhitgiftWycombe Abbey and Uppingham are referenced.

It used to be that only children with off-the-scale IQs, exceptional rugby prowess or prodigious skills on the piano or violin benefited from an independent school scholarship.

But things are changing. The range and diversity of non means-tested scholarships has increased in recent years and although more money across the private school sector now goes into bursaries, which are dependent on family income, there are still substantial fee savings to be made if your child can win one.

Most senior schools offer the traditional academic, sport and music scholarships, but many have now expanded into other areas.

“If you look carefully, it is now possible to find scholarships in subjects considered to be less academic and more creative, such as drama, dance, art, textiles and design and technology,” says Susan Hamlyn, director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service.

This new diversity is also typified by Bedford School, which recently introduced golf scholarships. Recipients generally have an official handicap of 16 or less and receive regular professional coaching at Woburn Golf Course, which is a 20-minute drive away.

Until this year, budding golfers received up to 10 per cent off fees — along with pupils benefiting from the other, more standard awards on offer, including academic, sport and music. But a legacy of £6 million left to the school by Old Boy Brian Saville, who made his millions in grocery wholesale and died in 2013 aged 83, has allowed it to introduce a range of up to 35 per cent scholarships.

The new theatre that this generous legacy helped pay for has also motivated the school to introduce a drama scholarship.

“We were aware that there is a whole middle band of income earners who earn too much to access a means-tested bursary but still can’t afford to send their children to an independent school because the fees are too high,” says Bedford School’s headmaster James Hodgson.

“Having 35 per cent off fees makes an enormous difference to the family who may have just missed out on qualifying for a bursary.”

During the past decade, private schools have shifted financial assistance from scholarships to bursaries.

Between 2010 and 2013, the total value of means-tested bursaries provided by schools increased by almost £50 million — a rise of 18.8 per cent — while the total value of scholarships remained largely stable. However, the 2014 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census revealed that while bursary provision rose again, by 5.6 per cent, the value of scholarships also rose by 3.1 per cent.

The 100 per cent scholarship is a rare thing and generally only comes about as a result of a joint scholarship and bursary award, but a number of schools will still offer substantial non means-tested awards to the most talented candidates.

Competition for awards is high. Certain schools select candidates on the basis of performance in the entrance exam, followed by an interview in some cases. Others require candidates to sit separate scholarship exams designed by the school or the Common Academic Scholarship papers set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board.

Students applying for sport, music or drama scholarships will have to perform on the pitch or in the theatre, while budding designers or artists will need to provide a portfolio of work and may also have to sit a test.

Parents with scholarship ambitions for their children who attend state schools need to speak to teachers at their preferred senior schools a few years in advance of the year of entry to find out what is required.

Good prep schools and independent junior schools have a firm grasp on what is required to navigate the scholarship and bursary landscape.

At Cottesmore School, a boarding prep school in West Sussex, between a quarter and a third of pupils each year secure scholarships to schools such as Benenden, Downe House, King’s Canterbury, Roedean, Tonbridge, Winchester and Wycombe Abbey.

Potential academic scholars are grouped together in Form Six (ages 12 to 13) and receive master classes, while non-academic scholars have extra support from the relevant staff. Children identified as potential scholars further down the school can be “fast-tracked” — moved one year above their age group, spending two years in Form Six.

Head of Cottesmore School Tom Rogerson is particularly keen on leadership scholarships, such as the Thring Scholarships offered by Uppingham School in Rutland, for applicants showing high all-round achievement and leadership potential. “We’ve set up a leadership programme that all scholarship pupils go through.

It has been a great success and helps children to contribute to every element of school life,” he says.

“There is a great pride in sitting scholarships. Often, it is the child who is keen to go for it and we’ve found that success breeds success.”

Bursaries

Financial support in the form of means-tested bursaries is being offered to more families than ever before, says the Independent Schools Council. However, parents have to be prepared to lay bare their finances.

“We get far more interest in bursaries than scholarships as there’s a greater need for them,” says Susan Hamlyn, director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service. ”Schools will consider your commitments, if you are a single parent, have four children or support an elderly mother. But if you have two homes and go on expensive holidays, they’ll be wondering why.”

The income level at which financial help kicks in is higher than many people assume and it has in recent years been increased by some schools. The £11,580-a-year King Edward’s School in Birmingham operates a sliding scale of fee reduction based on yearly family income.

Earnings under £20,000 may mean a free place; families on £30,000pa might only pay £1,000; while an income of £50,000 reduces the fee contribution to about £4,000 a year.

The Whitgift Foundation runs three independent schools in London — Trinity, Whitgift and Old Palace of John Whitgift — and has more than 40 per cent of students on bursaries and scholarships.

A family on £51,000pa would qualify for a bursary that reduces the £17,340-a-year fees at Whitgift School, for instance, to £5,502. An income of £63,000 — not unusual for a home with one working professional and a stay-at-home parent — reduces the fee to £10,302. Eligible families with two or more children at the school pay even less.

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