Fees & finance

Karen Neville

Many independent schools offer financial assistance to pupils through bursaries and scholarships, but what do they mean and how can they help?

I was lucky enough to benefit from a bursary enabling me to attend a local independent school, albeit more years ago now than I would care to remember, and to this day I am grateful for that opportunity, writes Karen Neville

A bursary is a grant awarded to a pupil enabling them to study at a fee-paying school which may not otherwise be possible. Independent schools offer means-tested fee assistance widening the access for families from all walks of life.

For many children the opportunities they enjoy in these schools is transformational – the smaller class sizes were definitely one of the aspects I benefitted from. Means-tested bursaries and scholarships currently account for around £480million of support per year. A third of all pupils educated by Independent Schools Council members receive fee assistance.

To quality for a bursary a parent or guardian will need to complete a financial assessment to establish whether the child meets the criteria, this is then usually re-assessed each year the bursary is required. It’s also worth noting that schools may look at other assets a family had and assess outgoings such as holidays, as-well as taking into account other financial commitments including the number of other children or dependents.

Some schools also have access to funds to help with the costs of uniform, books and trips too.

Scholarships are a form of financial aid for pupils who are gifted either academically, in music or sport and rather than being means-tested are based on the child’s abilities. They are often highly competitive with only a limited number being offered each year. It is possible to apply for both a bursary and a scholarship and the amount offered will vary from school to school.

If you are considering independent school education for your child and are likely to need some sort of financial assistance. It’s always worthwhile looking into the options sooner rather than later as places are highly contested and limited.

The most important consideration is your child – is an independent school education the right path? Don’t pressure them to go if they really don’t want to, settling into a new school without families faces of friends who may be going to other local schools, can be hard. There will also be entrance exams and interviews to negotiate, not every child’s cup of tea.

Details of fee assistance schemes can be found on individual school’s websites and the admissions office can always help further. The Good Schools Guide and Independent Schools Council also offer advice and help to find the right school for your child.