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29 Sep 2013

Bursaries – old wine, new bottles?

Bursaries may be a relatively new idea on the independent school scene but the concept isn’t. Well within the lifetime of many people reading this, there have been successful strategies aimed at enabling the bright children of the less-well-off to take advantage of the superior academic education offered by independent secondary schools and elite universities. Indeed, many of the present generation of post-war You Never Had It So Good quinqua, sexa andseptuagenarians were educated in the finest institutions without paying a penny.

Free to learn

Take your humble Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants Director, for example. After an unexceptional state primary school – 48 in the class, three streams, and well before anything called a SENCO – I went on a free place to a direct grant school – in which a third of the pupils were similarly funded by the LEA. The direct grant was not means-tested. The education was academic, rigorous and pretty punishing if you weren’t able – as I wasn’t – across the breadth of the curriculum. But we all went to university – many, like me, on a grant which paid for virtually everything. I, like so many, then went into teaching. This was in the years 1964-1974. At that time, it seemed only right that the state supported financially those who were seen to have ability and who would, in time, repay the debt by enriching society in general through their hard work and skills.

Giving back

While it would be impossible to do a head count, vast numbers of our engineers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, academics, scientists, actors, politicians, musicians, journalists and thinkers came out of this system. Society would be immeasurably impoverished had they not been given the opportunities they were.

The price of everything, the value of nothing?

Direct grants were replaced by assisted places. Then they went. Grants for places at university went or were means-tested. Now we all have to pay for what before was freely given – often at a rate which excludes exactly those who have benefitted society so much over the last few decades.

State schools have improved. Classes are smaller, expectations higher, facilities are unrecognisable. But, rightly or wrongly, many perceive the best of our independent schools to be offering a quality of education simply not available in most of the state system. Despite the fees, some independent schools – even at nursery level – are oversubscribed 10:1. And these schools are now offering the kind of financial assistance to the bright children of low earners – filling the space left by the state support of earlier decades. This support is paid for by investments, endowments, appeals – and the high fees paid by those who can afford them.

Three questions

One question is whether the financial help given, now, by schools to around 1/3 of their pupils, is reaching the same people who were in receipt of direct grant or assisted places in years gone by.

A second question is whether – in the short and longer term – there is a moral difference between the two systems?

A third – and most teasing – question – is whether those educated via bursaries from their independent schools feel the same sense of indebtedness to society felt by pupils educated via the direct grant or assisted place system once their school education is over?

24 Sep 2013

The Scholarships and Bursaries Service from The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants

You’d think they’d want you to know. You’d think that, having all this money piling up for the sole purpose of enabling deserving children from less well-off families to come to their schools, they’d take any opportunity to tell people. You may even recall that the charitable tax status accorded to independent schools depends to some extent on precisely this kind of reaching out beyond the confines of those who know how to get what they want.

Our hope was that the bodies that represent independent schools would like to collaborate with us – to take advantage of the huge numbers of parents who visit our website annually – 4 1/2 million – and create an open resource for all parents to be able to search to find out which schools offer what kind of help. They all told us what a good idea it was but did nothing to help. This despite the fact that the heads of the schools themselves were eager to help.

So – we wrote to all the schools direct and asked them to send us their info. This they have now done in their hundreds and we have spent the past year collecting and collating to provide the only collection of information on Scholarships and Bursaries available in this country.

The database now covers 500+ schools. It also has details of trusts and charitable foundations which have educational resources and can help in individual cases. Here it is: .

This means that rather than parents having to call up umpteen schools on spec, cap in hand and tentatively approach the money question, they can come to us, tell us what they need and where they need it and we can tell you what could be available.

Sadly, we have to charge for the service. Getting it all together has been months of work – and will continue to be time-consuming as we will be constantly updating the information. And you will understand that paying us, perhaps £100-200 could potentially – were you to get a 100% bursary at a boarding school – save you over £200,000.

NB The money is there. But so are many bright and talented children with clued-up parents. No-one has the right to financial assistance. But it’s definitely worth a try. And we will give you the information you need to do just that.

20 Sep 2013

Scholarships? Bursaries? Who Needs Them?

Interesting question! In most areas and with most children, there may be little demand for them. Most state comprehensives now do a decent job, most children want to be at their local school. So that’s all right then.

Or is it?

The pressure on school places – especially in the conurbations and especially in middle class areas – is becoming ever more intense. In London, it is now not uncommon to be offered no place at any of the schools you have chosen and to be shipped out of your borough into a neighbouring one – and to a school you have never heard of and wouldn’t have chosen. Grammar schools, wherever they are to be found – are insanely oversubscribed. Twelve or fifteen applicants per place in some areas. More and more parents of able children want this type of academic education for their children. But – if there are no places at the grammars and your local comprehensive is not doing well, what can you do?

And what can you do if you live in a rural area and the local-ish school is simply not right for your child; you may be a single parent; you may be unable to drive; you may be disabled; you may even be a grandparent who has care of children and you cannot take daily care of them.

Or your child may have a specific talent – or a specific problem – that simply cannot be catered for in your local school. What can you do?

What you can do – especially if your child is bright or has a special talent – is look to see if a fee-paying school might consider taking your child and help out with the fees. It may sound odd but more than a third of fee-paying school pupils get help with the fees – from the school itself. You may only need a contribution to the fees; you may need the full whack. And even if your youngster is neither especially bright or particularly gifted, there may still be bursarial help for him. Someone may have left funds in their will to help a child just like him.

Don’t get too excited. Scholarships are worth very little nowadays and juicy bursaries don’t drop off trees just for the shaking. But, you have a far better chance if you know where to look. And The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultant’s new Scholarships and Bursaries Service – to be launched next week – knows all about it.

19 Sep 2013

You don’t have to be posh

You don’t have to be posh to go to an independent school. In fact, if you are a pupil at an independent school, there a good chance that you aren’t posh at all.

Over a third of pupils at independent schools are now supported by financial assistance of some kind – anything from a glorious though meagre academic scholarship of a few hundred pounds a year to a bursary covering 100% of fees – boarding and education – and even supplemented with additional help for eg uniform, trips, travel etc.

Clever, professional, educated parents want the kind of schooling for their children that they had themselves. Perhaps they went to school on an assisted place or were part of the direct grant scheme. Both are now long gone.

Or maybe their own parents paid for it. Independent education was far more affordable when today’s parents were pupils. The price of independent schooling in relation to income has rocketed in recent decades. In 1980, an average day school place cost £1,500 pa and boarding set you back around £2,700, whereas the average wage was £6,000 pa. That is, your wage equalled four day places. Today, when the average income is around £26,000, a day school place in an independent school will set you back around £20,000pa and a boarding place is around £30,000. That is, your income today will cover one day place with a bit left over.

But, in 1980, scholarships were scant and mostly academic and bursaries almost non-existent. Today, there are scholarships for everything from art to yachting and a sizeable bursarial pot in many schools to attract the bright or brawny but broke – or broke-ish.

This is serious and seriously important news for many families. In the next few days, we will have plenty to say – and to tell – about this brave new world. So – sit up and pay attention. You may well learn something.

17 Sep 2013

Two Heads Are Better Than One

On Monday September 23rd at The Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge at 6.30pm there is a unique opportunity for parents to hear words of wisdom on choosing the right school and demystifying entrance exams from the heads of Harrow School and Dulwich College – alongside yours truly, Susan Hamlyn, Director of The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants. Places are limited and going fast. Most of the evening will be spent in question and answer with the three panellists so – come along – and get it from the horses’ mouths! Not to be missed!

30 Aug 2013

Well done, chaps!

We salute Sarah Fletcher – head-in-waiting at City of London Boys’ School. We salute City of London Boys’ School. Sarah is an outstanding head at Kingston Grammar and will be a great leader at one of our premier central London independent schools.

29 Aug 2013

Choice or Double Standards?

The London Oratory School – a Roman Catholic school to which Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and numerous other professional and clued-up parents sent or send their children has had its knuckles rapped over its admissions procedure. The Government’s Schools’ Adjudicator ruled that favouring the children of parents who provide long-term “service” to their local Catholic church is unjust as it discriminates against those who are, perhaps, less organised, less able to plan ahead, less clued-up but who may be just as ‘Catholic’ than the likes of Blair and Clegg.

This ruling may have implications for selective faith schools around the country, although there are probably none which are as over-subscribed as this one.

But what does it mean in terms of the ‘choice’ agenda to which this and all recent governments have noisily subscribed?

What is the Free Schools programme all about if not to allow interest groups to set up and run their own schools according to their own principles? True, built in to the Free Schools programme are admissions’ criteria which do not allow schools to select according to eg faith unless they are oversubscribed and, even then, fifty per cent of places are awarded irrespective of ‘faith’.

But state grammar schools select on the basis of academic ability and there is always great clamour for more of these.

The Schools’ Adjudicator says, “it feels unfair that any admission criterion should require parents to be thinking about school admissions four years ahead of the actual time of admission.” You tell that to the parents who have their eye on a grammar school place and tutor their tot up to the eyeballs for years before the 11+.

We have no especial affection for ‘faith schools’ of any denomination and, yes, The Oratory admissions’ criteria are reminiscent of convoluted Medieval pontifical edicts but we detect double standards here.


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