Independent School Scholarships and Bursaries

Parents will often pursue a strategy of trying to get their child into a Grammar School and as a fallback trying to get their child into an Independent School through a scholarship or bursary.

What is the difference between a scholarship and a bursary?

Traditionally scholarships have been awarded to children based on their ability and performance .

Bursaries are normally allocated on a needs basis alone. There will be a full financial examination of family circumstances and if income and assets fall below a certain level then some schools offer assistance with fees.

Scholarships can be anything between 100% fees and fall as low as a £60 honary payment. Scholarships have tended to be reduced over the years with the money saved being devoted to bursaries. Some Independent Schools have the flexibility to change how much they give in scholarship awards, others are tied and must continue as they were.

In some schools they operate a needs blind entry process where places are offered regardless of means and then those that qualify for bursaries are offered them. In other schools bursaries are not automatically allocated and need to be applied for. In most schools there will be limited bursaries but some schools which are well funded do offer bursaries to any qualifying applicant.

Are Independent school bursaries competitive?

In only a few schools are bursaries offered to any qualifying child. In most schools bursaries are offered to children who are at the very top of the performance scale AND proven to qualify for a bursary on a needs basis. To that end bursaries in many schools are treated as enhanced scholarship awards for poorer families.

What is the Independent School scholarship process?

Most Independent Schools which have an intake at 11+ do not operate a separate process for potential academic scholars. Scholars will simply be expected to do even better than others in the tests, have an impressive report and will certainly have to deliver an impressive interview.

Where a scholarship is more specific (all-rounder, Sports, Music etc.) then a further assessment is likely.

Scholars are normally told of their award at the same time as others are told if they have a place or not.

Why is there such a fluctuation in Scholarship award levels?

Many scholarships were formed by donation (someone kindly gave a sum of money to the school, this is invested to provide income to fund the scholarships). Of course this sum varies so schools naturally have different levels of awards.

Where schools have the flexibility to choose how much is awarded on a non-means tested basis, many are choosing to reduce scholarship awards in favour of means tested bursaries. This is partially driven by an increasing focus of Independent Schools retaining their charitable tax status.

Are awards generally kept once given?

More often than not scholarships are awarded on the basis of on-going performance. Schools want to attract scholars for all sorts of reasons but one of the most important is so that they can help other children to do better and or work harder. It makes a huge difference to aspirations if other children see that very high marks are achievable. Scholars help drag up the performance of less able children.

Of course to deliver this benefit scholars need to work hard and continue to develop. It wouldn’t do for a scholar to fall into the middle of the pack in terms of performance or to just do the bare minimum in terms of effort and work.

Schools won’t remove awards without warning but you can expect to have to work hard and keep your performance levels up if you are awarded a scholarship and want to retain it – this applies to sports and music and all-rounder awards too.

How does performance relate to bursaries?

Bursaries work in a number of different ways in schools depending on the amount of money they have.

Some schools choose not to offer bursaries when children join but instead use what spare money they have to offer help and assistance to parents whose circumstances change while their children are at the school.

Other schools will use bursary money when children join but in a strictly limited way and may not be able to afford to help all those that they would like to.

In many schools there is bursary funding when children join, parents are asked to apply for it before a place is allocated. The school in these cases will use both 11 plus test results and level of need to allocate funds. When used in this way bursary funding is effectively scholarship funding which is restricted to families in financial need.

There are only a very few schools which are rich enough to be able to offer the gold standard of offering places on a needs blind basis and undertaking to give bursaries to any child without the means to pay.

Once awarded will bursaries be maintained throughout?

Almost certainly not. Bursaries are normally subject to yearly means testing. It is worth considering this because effectively if your family situation does change and income or assets increase (through inheritance for instance, or through income changes or job changes) the school will vary the amount it subsidises school fees as you break through the various income barriers.

This won’t come as a surprise to those receiving bursaries because they will be able to understand what the criteria are up front and will know what regular checks schools will do. Schools have to do this to ensure need is appropriately targeted.

It is also true that many bursaries will have other conditions attached. For instance there is no point in schools subsidising fees if children or indeed parents are difficult to handle or deal with. Equally schools will expect bursary recipients to be working their little socks off and progressing well. They perhaps won’t quite have to reach the heights of scholars but a large amount of effort is expected to ensure they make the most of the opportunities being given to them.

If there’s any doubt about parental or pupil commitment then it might be best to think very carefully before applying to an Independent school.