Accessing Scholarships, Bursaries and other fee assistance to independent schools in the UK.

Sally MacDonald, Founder and Director of The Scholarship and Bursary Advisory Centre

Sally MacDonald, Founder and Director of The Scholarship and Bursary Advisory Centre

The Scholarship and Bursary Advisory Centre

West Sussex

Sally MacDonald

Founder and Director

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Most of us are aware that scholarships and bursaries are available at independent schools but how many of us actually believe they could be accessible to our children? In fact, when empowered with a little knowledge, understanding and confidence about the process of scholarship and bursary applications, parents are accessing incredible educational opportunities for their children.


Education is such an important aspect of our children’s lives. As parents we often spend years thinking about our children’s education, researching and planning which schools they should go to and worrying about whether we have made the right decisions. A major frustration these days can be difficulty in accessing the schools of our choice which we feel will best meet the needs of our children. Despite a powerful commitment to pursue the right education for our children, we often feel constrained by lack of funds.


There is a long tradition of independent schools offering assistance to bright children whose parents cannot afford the fees. In recent years, helped by rulings from The Charities Commission, opportunities for help with the cost of independent education have increased. The Charities Acts of 2006 and 2011 have encouraged an increase in the allocation of resources for broadening access. Consequently, more children whose parents cannot afford the fees are able to attend independent schools. In fact, every year, millions of pounds are provided to help thousands of children benefit from educational opportunities which might otherwise be closed to them.


Parents often ask where they should begin their quest for scholarships and bursaries. A good starting point is to research the websites and prospectuses of the schools that interest you. In addition, there is no substitute for visiting schools, speaking to staff and pupils and gaining your own first-hand impressions of schools. If you have no specific schools in mind, then there are many resources which can guide you to the right schools. The Independent Schools Yearbook published by A&C Black, for example, is a comprehensive reference book which includes details of schools and the awards they offer. It is sometimes referred to as the “Bible” of information on independent schools. There is also has an associated website In fact, there is a plethora of websites which can aid your search, for example, the Independent Schools Council Such websites can also be invaluable sources of information about educational issues.


However, the sheer wealth of information can be overwhelming and trigger myriad questions: “What is a scholarship?”, “What is a bursary?”, “What is the difference between a scholarship and a bursary?”, “How and when do we apply for a scholarship?”, “How and when do we apply for a bursary?” “Are scholarships and bursaries open to children from state schools?”, “Which school would be best for my child?”, “Which scholarship could my child apply for?”, “Will we qualify for a bursary?”, “ Can we apply to more than one school at the same time?”, “Can we apply for more than one scholarship or bursary at the same time?”, “ What costs are involved?”, “What could go wrong with a scholarship or bursary application?”, “Does my child have to excel across the board to stand a chance of an award?”, “ How will my child be assessed?”, “What are schools looking for?”, “How can I prepare my child?”, “Do our family circumstances help or hinder our application?”, “What factors are taken into consideration when assessing our finances?”, “What financial information do we need to provide to schools?”, “How much financial assistance might be available to us and how long might it last?”


Dedicated research, including a detailed study of school websites and prospectuses can be very useful but is time consuming and often does not answer some of these important questions. Finding someone to talk to who has already successfully negotiated their way through this minefield can make all the difference. It can empower parents with the essential tools to tackle the process for themselves. Once equipped with the information, understanding and confidence they need, parents are much better placed to pursue the educational opportunities of their choice for their children.


Most good independent schools offer a wide range of awards. These are usually a combination of scholarships, exhibitions, assisted places and bursaries. They can be all-rounder awards or more specifically concentrating on one area, usually academic, sport, art, design technology, music, drama or dance. The exact awards offered, the entry dates, entry requirements and assessment criteria all vary between schools and are subject to change so there is no substitute for careful, up to date, research of the opportunities available.


In recent years the emphasis on funding has shifted away from scholarships based purely on merit, to scholarships and bursaries which are means tested. This enables schools to better allocate their precious funds according to need. Schools still give financial rewards based solely on merit but these tend to be lower than they once were and more money is now available for means tested bursaries and scholarships. Many factors can be taken into consideration, including attainment, potential, personal and financial circumstances and how much a child might benefit from the education provided.

Scholarships are usually awarded on merit and are often, but not always, irrespective of financial status. They are generally designed to identify and recognise those children who are particularly talented in one or a number of areas. Potential is often taken into consideration in addition to current achievement. The assessment procedures vary depending on the school and the award applied for. Scholarships tend to be of small monetary value, though they can go up to around fifty percent of the fees. Scholarships can usually be augmented with a means-tested bursary if necessary.


Awards of up to 100% fee remission do exist

Bursaries are often awarded on entry to a school, to children who could not otherwise afford to take up a place. They are also given to children whose parents fall on hard times whilst they are some way through their education. Bursaries are typically means-tested and reviewed annually. Parents are usually required to provide detailed information about their financial situation. Awards of up to 100% of the school fees do exist, depending on individual circumstances, so no-one should feel they cannot make an application due to lack of financial resources. Occasionally schools even give additional help towards the costs of extras, such as uniform, travel and trips. There is considerable competition for bursaries and the assessments reflect this. Very often there are separate exams for those applying from state and independent schools, to reflect differences in curriculum.

In addition to financial help directly offered by schools, there are charitable grant-making trusts which can help those in need. However, trusts often have specific application criteria which limit those who can apply for grants. A good place to start looking for grants is your local library. Books such as The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts: 2012-13 by Tom Traynor, can be helpful.


Winning an award can provide opportunities which are truly life-changing

If you have doubts about the efficacy of the education your child is receiving, or you have concerns about where they will study next, or how you can possibly afford to educate them, why not consider applying for an award? Remember, financial status should not be a barrier to accessing the right education for your child. The process can demand much determination and hard work from parents but the prize is worthwhile. Winning an award can provide opportunities which are truly life-changing.


by Sally MacDonald, BSc MA. Specialist Educational Consultant


Sally MacDonald is a Specialist Educational Consultant who has a background in educational research. She is passionate about broadening access to education. Sally is Founder and Director of The Scholarship and Bursary Advisory Centre. She has many years of experience in providing tailor-made consultations to parents who want to know more about making scholarship and bursary applications. Being a parent herself, with four children who have all won life-changing awards, Sally is uniquely qualified to help other parents in this respect.


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