Scholarships are there to be won. In general, scholarships are awarded to candidates who excel – either academically or in sports, arts, music etc. Most scholarships these days are not worth a large percentage of the fees though this is not universally true and, for example, a music scholarship can, in some cases, be worth up to half the normal school fee. Some scholarships are largely honorary which means that the scholar gets the glory but very little fee remission. Scholarships do not depend on the family income.
Bursary money is now enabling many hundreds of children who would not have had a chance of an independent education to go to independent schools. Bursaries are always means-tested and do not depend on academic brilliance although a child has to pass the usual entrance exams to be eligible for bursarial help. Some pupils are on a bursary which covers the full fee and maybe even contributes to extras; others may have a reduction of only 10% or so off their fees but enough to make acceptance of a place possible.
Best of both
It is possible for an individual child to hold both a scholarship and a bursary and many do. Talented children from families with low or lowish incomes can be supported up 100% of the fees with combinations of this kind. However, it cannot be stressed too firmly that this is only for those who are exceptionally able and from families whose income and circumstances would prohibit the child having a chance of attending the school were it not for this amount of help.
There is little consistency in the assistance with fees that individual schools – and groups of schools – can offer. Much depends on whereabouts in the country they are, whether they are ancient and well-endowed or more recent establishments, whether they are boys’ or girls’ schools, whether their trustees and governors have invested wisely, whether they actually believe in opening their doors as widely as possible.
Whether or not they can offer you any help with fees will also depend on your own financial and family circumstances. It is not all down to your income. A family with two homes, two working parents and only one child is less likely to get any financial support than a family with one home, four children, a dependent relative and only one parent able to work – unless the family income is high.
We have been working for many years with families who hope for some kind of financial assistance towards fee-paying schools. Here are a few tips based on our experience:
- Do your research. Some schools have lots of money which they use to support able children from less well-off homes. Others have little or none. In general, prep schools have far less money for this purpose than senior schools. Very few schools will have scholarship or bursarial money for children under the age of 7. This information should be on the schools’ own websites. If it isn’t, call them. Or call us: 0203 203 6824.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to approach any school about the possibility of a bursary or scholarship. You can talk to them about money completely independently from your child’s actual application. Call or email the bursary and ask for a confidential chat. You don’t even need to give your name if you just want basic, in principle, information eg ‘Do you give sports scholarships?’ or ‘What is the maximum amount the school might be able to help me with?’ ‘Might there be the possibility of a scholarship topped up with a bursary if your income and circumstances qualify you?’
- Be realistic. Prep schools often have very little or no money for fee assistance and most of what they have will be for small scholarships eg in sports or music. Girls’ schools are seldom well-endowed although the Girls’ Day School Trust now has a sizeable bursary provision.
- Be honest with yourself about your child. If he is top of his small primary school class, this does not mean that he will shine in competition with several hundred children competing for a very few places in a highly selective, academic school. If he is good at football, remember that sports scholarships will go to those already in county teams. If she is a fine musician, remember that schools who offer music scholarships may well be looking for innate musicality rather than glittery grade results and that, in any case, large numbers of children achieve remarkably highly in grades.
- Always be completely honest about your financial circumstances when you apply for a bursary. You can be – at best – deeply embarrassed, at worst, prosecuted – later on if you conceal or obscure any assets or income.
- Check the small print. If you are offered financial assistance, look carefully at the documentation and what your commitments are. Many schools expect lots of extra work and attendance from their music scholars. Some schools now insist on the bursarial contribution being repaid if you withdraw your child from the school for any reason. This could be punitive. Make sure you know the terms and conditions of any award you are offered.
- Protect your child. If you put her in for exams at academically selective schools but you could only accept a place if a bursary is offered to you, then do not allow her to build up her hopes too high. If she does her bit and passes the exams but you cannot afford the place without a bursary, then you must tell her so and do not allow her to be desperately disappointed if the bursary is not forthcoming. If the place is offered but the bursary is not, this is not your child’s fault and the school will not be persuaded to reconsider just because your child is clever and you are all disappointed. So – this is our most important advice to you – do not apply unrealistically. A child’s morale and confidence are crucial – so is their faith in you and your judgement. Tread carefully, act wisely and do come to us for a realistic appraisal of your options.
Charitable grant-making trusts can help in cases of genuine need but do be aware that charitable trusts and grant organisations have strict criteria and usually require social need to be the contributing factor to the application for funds. The Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation provides bursaries to help disadvantaged children attend state or independent boarding schools.
The ‘social needs’ recognised by the grant-making trusts are usually:
- Boarding need, where the home environment is unsuitable because of the disability or illness of the parents or of siblings
- Unforeseen family disaster, such as the sudden death of the breadwinner when a child is already at school
- Need for continuity when a pupil is in the middle of a GCSE or A level course and a change in parental circumstances threatens their place at the school
- Need for special education where there is a genuine recognised learning handicap which cannot be catered for at a state school.
There are various websites which allow you to search for this kind of help. Our Scholarships and Bursaries Service also keeps an up-to-date record of who now offers what in the way of fee assistance for families dealing with exceptional circumstances.
The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants holds a unique central source of information on scholarships and bursaries. You may have a gifted child but limited finances. You may want a confidential discussion before going to individual schools to find out what they may be able to offer you. Read more about our Scholarships and Bursaries help.