Private school bursaries: helping talent shine through

In an article in the Telegraph 28/03/13, Paul Bray looks at the opportunities that bursaries and scholarships can give to deserving children from all walks of life. Three HMC schools: Latymer Upper, Whitgift and Downside are quoted.

Independent schooling may be pricey, but contrary to popular belief it is not the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. Many independent schools were originally founded for the education of “poor scholars” and still take their social responsibilities seriously.

“It’s in our DNA,” as David Goodhew, head of Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, west London, puts it.

Almost all independent schools offer some measure of financial support. According to the 2012 Census of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), more than a quarter of pupils – 140,000 children – receive financial help from their school in the form of excellence awards, means-tested bursaries, and sibling discounts to name a few.

Not all of these families live on the breadline, either, so once you have selected the right school for your child it pays to check out the financial assistance on offer, even if you consider yourself comfortably off. School websites usually give details, or you can ring the bursar.

If your child is a budding genius or a talented musician, artist or sporting star, they may be eligible for a scholarship. In most schools these are awarded purely on merit, not parental income, and occasionally they go begging because not enough suitable candidates apply.

Bursary applicants must submit to a fairly rigorous means-testing exercise, since schools are charities and want to spend their funds wisely. Be prepared to divulge information about earned and unearned income, and the value of assets and liabilities, such as property and mortgages. This detailed process is not dissimilar to completing a tax return.

At Latymer Upper School, where eight per cent of pupils receive means-tested support, a family on the national average salary of around £26,500 would almost certainly qualify for a free place. A family on £53,000 might qualify for a bursary of up to 75 per cent, depending on circumstances.

At Whitgift School in Croydon, Surrey, where about 40 per cent of boys receive means-tested support, the cut-off point is as high as £76,000, says head Christopher Barnett. Parents with an income of £40,000 would pay only £2,500 towards the £15,000 annual fees, says head Christopher Barnett.

While scholarship winners must excel, bursary holders only need to meet a school’s general admission requirements (although these are often high). “Poorer parents should not feel at a disadvantage because they are unable to afford expensive extra tuition,” says Goodhew. “At the same time, you won’t do children any favours by hot-housing them into a school which may not be suitable for them. In this instance, coaching won’t be of much help.”

Nevertheless, many schools find that bursary recipients do perform slightly better, both academically and socially. “It’s often the case that the child who gets financial support will 'sing for its supper’ and give 110 per cent effort,” says Anastasia Hatvany, registrar at Downside School, a Catholic mixed boarding school near Bath.

Nor should bursary students – or their parents – fear being treated as poor relations by their fee-paying peers. Scholarships may be celebrated, but other students are not told who receives a bursary, and schools often have a liaison officer to help recipients’ families “fit in” at functions and parents’ days.

Indeed, schools appear as keen on bursaries and awards as the parents are. “Having a diverse pupil body is better for everyone as it prevents social exclusivity,” says Barnett. “It also means we can bring in the most talented and gifted pupils regardless of their ability to pay, which raises the bar educationally and benefits the school community.”

Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.