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Educational Dilemmas

Susan Hamlyn, director emerita of The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants, answers your educational quandaries and predicaments.

Question: Our son is bright and sporty and we would like him to go to the local comprehensive. But he may not get in as it's over-subscribed and we live near, but maybe not near enough. The other local school is poor. We could try for the local independents but we would need help with the fees, for example, a scholarship. How does this work? How bright does he have to be? How much help might we get?

Answer: The first thing is to do your homework. Not all independent schools have money for scholarships and bursaries, so you need to find out what might be available at each of the schools you are considering. Scholarships at most independent schools are now usually worth only around 10% of fees, though some schools have scholarships worth more than this. Edgbaston School for Girls, for example, offers up to 50% off fees and some sixth form scholarships, especially for specific subjects, eg Berkhamsted School’s Peter Gibbs Science Scholarship, can be worth up to 100%.

Scholarships are awarded for several things but academic, sporting, artistic or musical ability are the commonest. Most schools now put the funds they have for fee assistance into bursaries as this helps them attract talented pupils who would not, otherwise, be able to come to the school. All schools apply their own criteria when it comes to assessing how much to offer but, especially in London or in very well-endowed schools, a family income can be surprisingly high and yet qualify for some assistance. For example, St Paul's Boys’ School now offers assistance to parents with an income of up to £120,000 pa. We have seen upper thresholds of £100,000; £65,000; £55,000 (combined income pa), but it varies from school to school and according to location.

However, it’s important to understand that schools don't just look at income - they look at your financial commitments, dependents if any, lifestyle, whether or not you have a second home etc. The level of bursarial help is reassessed each year.

Susan Hamlyn explains scholarships and bursaries at the Independent Schools Show

An able child from a family with a moderate income could get a scholarship, topped up by a bursary, in some schools. Obviously, some schools have higher academic thresholds than others. In London, you have to be very able indeed to get a scholarship because competition is so great. But elsewhere it can be easier.

Identify the possible schools. Call up the bursars in each case and ask to have a chat. Don't be nervous – children like yours are the ones they hope to attract. You will need to put your financial cards on the table but it could be well worthwhile.

If you need help identifying possible schools or would like to chat over how to approach this, The Good Schools Guide has a unique Scholarships and Bursaries Service. We hold details on fee assistance available at over 700 UK independent schools. You tell us about your child, the type of independent education you want etc and we will research for you. We do charge a fee – typically between £180–£240, depending on the amount of information you need. Call us for more information on 0203 286 6824.

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