Bursaries and scholarships: a win-win situation?

Simon Fry looks at how they’re expanding the reach of independent education

Pupils with the potential to thrive in independent schools, but whose parents fall short of affording their fees, can still enter via receipt of bursaries and scholarships. 

Naturally, this benefits the pupil, but the school also benefits by receiving gifted children determined to set an example while studying and make their mark on the world upon graduation, while possibly paying-back in later life.    

In 2017–18, Dulwich College is spending £4m on bursary and scholarship support for 465 boys. Scholarships (academic, music, art and sport) are awarded to pupils achieving the highest grades in their entrance examinations, while all bursaries are means-tested and reviewed annually and range from 10% to 100% of fees. 

Dulwich also provides commensurate support for outings and expeditions to enable a boy on a college bursary to access the full holistic offering. Broadly, those eligible for a bursary may have annual parental income up to £80,000. 

Over the coming years, the college is committed to expanding bursary provision at all levels and aims to be able to offer financial assistance for up to 50% of its pupils whose parents are unable to meet the total cost of the full fee.   

A recent bursary award holder, now reading classics at Oxford, described his time at Dulwich as, “Unforgettable. Academically, the school has given me so much freedom and opportunity to explore all my interests, and outside the classroom I have been allowed to grow and mature through music, scouting and countless other wonderful activities.” Another, now on a gap year, said, “I have experienced the joys of co-curricular activities such as sport, music and drama, all participated at a high level and taken place in special venues, such as the Royal Festival Hall.” 

Commenting on the college’s ambitious work to build its bursary fund, Dr. Joseph Spence, Master of Dulwich College, said, “It is a privilege to be in a position to offer young people transformational educational opportunities. And beyond this the marvel of witnessing boys relishing the experiences, determined to enjoy successful and fulfilled lives and often themselves becoming future philanthropists.” 

Recent bursary holders at The Perse School, Cambridge have gone on to succeed in diverse environments. One was awarded a prestigious Arkwright Engineering Scholarship and is currently studying engineering at Cambridge, another is studying engineering at Cambridge while a third is part of a multi award-winning British vocal group which he joined while studying pharmacy at Birmingham University. 

Ed Elliott, Headteacher at The Perse School, has first-hand experience of the role schools play in giving children the knowledge, skills, qualities and confidence needed to live happy and successful adult lives.  

“I was the last of an 11+ generation fortunate enough to have a wonderful education for free. The 11+ door closed on the year behind me. Great schools like The Perse should not just be open to those who can afford their fees, but to those who are well suited to and will benefit from their distinctive education,” explained Ed. “Fee-charging schools are essentially economically selective and risk becoming islands of privilege largely divorced from the communities around them. Far better to aim for a broad socio-economic intake ensuring children from all backgrounds are able to attend through bursaries.”

Ed believes this universal talent maximisation, at no cost to the state, must be good for Britain’s social and economic future. The Perse currently spends over £1m annually on means-tested financial assistance. “Our aim is to double this figure, so we can give more children an outstanding education, irrespective of family finances. I worry that with threats to the charitable status of independent schools, and political talk of VAT on fees, our financial ability to give free or subsidised places away to children whose families could not otherwise afford a private education will be reduced,” said Ed. 

At St Mary’s, Colchester scholarships are available to Year 7 pupils demonstrating potential in art, drama, music or sport. Performance in the school’s entrance assessment determines which pupils are offered scholarships, while Miss Comrie Scholars, who act as school ambassadors, are chosen following their meeting with the principal and an independent panel. 

Drama scholars will seek to match the success of former pupil Anna Koval, who has appeared in The A Word and Ripper Street among other television shows and whose first performance onstage was at St Mary’s. Anna said, “The strength of character I developed at school and the support I received to pursue a path I was very passionate about has allowed me to have my dream career.”

Principal Hilary Vipond considers St Mary’s scholars to be highly valued at the school, making an active contribution to school life and acting as role models and leaders to other pupils and as ambassadors for St Mary’s. “Scholars are encouraged, and expected, to make the most of the wealth of educational opportunities available to them to extend, broaden and strengthen their aptitudes and talents and to gain valuable experience standing them in good stead for the future,” said Hilary. 

Clearly, the widening of independent education via scholarships and bursaries is a win-win-win for pupil, school and nation alike. It is to be hoped any threat to these arrangements in the coming months and years – through political will or charity status changes – can be overcome. 

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