James Glasse Education
Writer, Tutor, Education Consultant
As education budgets in the state sector shrink with all the implications for standards, parents are starting to think the unthinkable. How can we possibly afford a private education for our children? Yet many hard-pressed families might be surprised at the sort of assistance that is on offer at both primary and secondary level, particularly as independent schools are under increasing pressure to justify their charitable status. An estimated third of UK parents with children in private schools receive financial assistance and the Independent Schools Council’s latest figures show that fee assistance continues to increase, with both the amount available and the number of children who benefit rising. Bursaries are worth more than £700m a year and are provided to 41,000 pupils. 5,400 children pay no fees and 42% of bursary pupils only pay half fees.
Yet what kind of financial assistance, scholarships and bursaries are available for the children of less affluent parents in Sussex schools? How do parents on lower incomes go about accessing places to independent schools?
Several prep schools in the county offer substantial assistance with fees. At primary level, the Prebendal School in Chichester offers choir scholarships worth between 50% and 100% of the school fees depending on parents’ circumstances. As the oldest school in Sussex, the Prebendal School has been the choir school of Chichester Cathedral for more than 500 years. Although the school is coeducational, the choir is all male. The Choristers board and sing almost every day in the Cathedral. Choristers start as 'Probationers' in Year 3 or 4 (age 7-9), and usually after one year they become full choristers. Chorister scholarships range from a minimum of 50% up to 100% of the school fees. Informal Chorister auditions can be arranged throughout the year for any boys from age 7 and previous experience is not necessary. As well as their singing, the Choristers take a full and active part in the life of the School. They have piano lessons, which are provided free of charge, and each Chorister is expected to learn at least one other instrument. Many choristers go on to win major awards to top schools 73% of its year 8 leavers achieved a range of scholarships and awards to leading schools in 2016.”
Washington based Windlesham House School is another Sussex co-educational prep school offering a limited number of 100% bursaries and assisted places. The school works with local councils and children’s charities as well as receiving donations from parents towards its bursary fund. It also has a link with SpringBoard – an organisation which helps the school to find suitable and genuinely deserving cases to assist.
Lucy Thornton, Head of Marketing, PR and Admissions at Windlesham comments: ‘Our bursaries are means tested and we are looking for families whose children would really benefit. We need parents to really buy into a private education for their children and we like to work with parents and organisations with a view to students being assisted the whole way through [their education].’
The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation (‘SpringBoard’) was established in 2012. It is a pioneering charity that offers fully-funded places at accredited state and independent boarding schools to disadvantaged pupils who will best benefit from a boarding education but whose parents cannot afford the fees. SpringBoard raises funds from donors for the bursaries, while some are paid in whole or in part by member schools themselves. SpringBoard also has a wider agenda of increasing social mobility; SpringBoard pupils are supported to help raise educational aspirations in their home communities through sharing their experiences and acting as mentors to other young people. In 2015 SpringBoard supported 62 pupils from 45 schools who went on to attend 29 of its member schools. Eleven pupils were recruited at eleven years of age with the largest cohort being recruited at sixteen plus. Other Sussex based SpringBoard member schools include Christ’s Hospital, Bedales and Eastbourne College.
At secondary level, Christ’s Hospital claims to offer more scholarships and bursaries than any other independent boarding school in the UK. Founded in London in 1552 by King Edward VI, the school is now located in Horsham. - Christ's Hospital is unusual for a British independent school in that it educates a proportion of its pupils for free, and most at a reduced rate. This stems from its founding charter as a charitable school. School fees are paid on a means-tested basis, with substantial subsidies paid by the School, so that pupils from all backgrounds can have a high quality, independent school education that would otherwise be beyond the means of their parents.
According to a spokesman for the school: ‘Currently only 19% of our pupils pay full boarding fees – 14% pay no fees and up to 35% pay up to a maximum of 10%. Christ’s Hospital provides more financial support towards its pupils’ places than any other independent boarding school in the UK in the form of means-tested bursaries and has done for over 460 years. This year, Christ’s Hospital is providing £16.4m of means-tested bursaries and other allowances, considerably more than any other independent boarding school in the UK. (£15.5m in means-tested bursaries alone).’
Hurst College is another Sussex based secondary private school offering a range of scholarships and assisted places. Financial support is also available in the form of means-tested bursaries for parents of children who have been awarded a scholarship but are unable to afford the standard fees.
According to Gillian Luis-Ravelo, Director of Marketing and Admissions at Hurstpierpoint College: ‘Hurst offers a range of scholarship awards for various aspects of school life. Award holders are valued at Hurst, not only for what they can achieve, but also as role models for others and for their ability to support and lead others. Being an award holder is not only an honour and a privilege, but also a responsibility.’
Awards come with expectations and it is important that these are recognised by those who hold them. Award holders are expected to set a good example and, in the unlikely event that they may transgress any of the school rules, they will lose their award. Pupils also need to fit the school’s academic criteria: ‘Academic potential and welfare needs will always be taken into account but, in general, applicants for academic awards will be expected to have a non-verbal (NVR) and verbal (VR) reasoning score of 130+ and applicants in other categories a NVR and VR score of 120+ in order to qualify for bursarial support.’
Bursaries are determined using the Hurst Scale of awards and Hurst offers its BN6 award for up to two fully-funded scholarship places for pupils in Year 6 looking to join Hurst Prep in Year 7. The Scholarship is means tested and offered from Year 7 through to Sixth Form. The award is aimed at children who are currently in Year 6 and either living or attending a school in the BN6 postcode area. They must also be very able academically, interested in actively pursuing extra-curricular opportunities and willing to embrace the Hurst ethos of supporting and encouraging each other.
Assistance may in exceptional circumstances be available to meet up to 100% of tuition fees payable, depending on the personal circumstances of the applicants. There is also a range of music scholarships and awards for musicians who are of at least grade 3 level. Scholarships are also available at 13+ and 16+ for academic, art, drama, music and sports.
The boundary between the independent and state sector becomes ever more blurred – every year independent schools provide more than £350 million in free places and reduced fees to children from low income homes and according to the Independent Schools’ Council there are now 1,550 partnerships between independent and state schools including new free schools and sharing of teachers in subjects where there is a shortage in the state sector. Independent schools share facilities with state schools for sport, drama, music and art.
As for the future? With the Independent Schools’ Council planning to offer a further 10,000 government assisted places to independent schools, a private education could suddenly become a whole lot more affordable. The plan is designed to meet government demands that - in exchange for its tax-free, charitable status, which saves independent schools at least £150m a year – private schools do more for potential pupils whose families cannot afford to pay the fees. Watch this space.
James Glasse Education
James Glasse is a writer, tutor and education consultant and currently writes for Times Education Supplement and other publications on education and related issues. Formerly Senior Master at one of London’s leading independent preparatory schools, James has been Head of Classics and has taught Latin, English, Mandarin Chinese and humanities at a number of top independent schools. A Mandarin Chinese speaker, he is a published author having written for more than thirty publications including the Times, Independent and Guardian and has authored books for the Economist Intelligence Unit and Financial Times Business Information. He has also published numerous management and business related reports on a published and bespoke basis.
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