A large proportion of pupils in UK private receive some form of financial assistance with their school fees. Most parents are aware of the terms "bursary" (for lower income families) or "scholarship" (for talented pupils). In our separate "School Fees Reduction Guide" for clients (who retain us by fees) we explain 10 different ways of discounting the fees liability. Ask us separately about that Guide. Here we only discuss bursaries.
A bursary is simply a reduction in school fees usually granted by the school to parents who have limited incomes and assets. It could be anywhere from 10% to 100 % of fees and mostly applies to day tuition fees rather than boarding. Typically a bursary is a grant to help with the education of children who would not otherwise be able to attend a private school. It is typically only awarded to British citizens.
Later we tell you how to apply for one, but before that we feel obliged to dispel some of the misinformation written on this subject.
There are estimated to be around 41,000 children being financially assisted by private schools, from which some commentators suggest it must be easy to get a bursary if you just "ask around". This number is based on research by the Independent Schools Council who have 1267 member schools, with ca 500,000 pupils. The total pupils in private schools is ca 650,000 in more than 2000 schools.
Let us put some of these numbers into perspective. Bursaries are mostly confined to British parents. Only a very small proportion are offered to international parents.
More than 80% of UK schools are set up as charitable trusts and their policy on bursaries is heavily influenced by not just their charitable status, but also the politics of the day. During the last Labour government, independent schools were threatened with the withdrawal of tax breaks charitable status unless they did more for public benefit and specifically widened access for underprivileged children. This definitely resulted in a trend away from scholarships to bursaries, although we sense this has been reversed since the Conservatives have returned to power with more funds for scholarships.
So, how do you apply for a bursary?
For international parents, you stand very little chance of securing a bursary in isolation. However, schools may be keener to consider a supplementary bursary to a scholarship, if your child can win one first – see the other chapter on scholarships.
Definitely start early. Most schools will carry a deadline in January preceding September entry. But beware that you need to plan and apply up to 2 years early. Bursarial funds are strictly limited and invariably run out before the end of each school year. NOTE Most schools will charge you an application fee between £100 to £200 to consider your bursary request and this is non refundable.
Now comes the hardest part of all. You will have to fill in a very detailed questionnaire supported by a lot of financial documentation about your income and assets. The school will want to see all of your bank & savings accounts plus mortgage statement. If you don't like filling in Income Tax returns, this is very similar! We show a typical bursary application form in Section 2 and remember you will probably have to renew this every year.
The relationships between school bursars and parents has become a little "adversarial" because there are far more requests than available funds. Thus many of the larger senior schools have subcontracted out the bursary process to independent accountants to take the sting out of possible arguments with parents if their request gets denied. It can be reasonably assumed that accountants will pay more attention to the numbers rather than the emotion behind a bursary request.
We wish you success, if you are applying for a bursary. Please note that Education Advisers Ltd does not give bespoke advice on bursaries. However, by writing this guide we hope to give you some practical advice on how you go about applying for one. In the final appendix we give a typical bursary application form. For those parents considering scholarships or financial planning methods, we publish a guide to discounting fees which is available to fee paying clients – contact us on +44 (0) 1622 813870 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is an example of a questionnaire used by a school to obtain financial background for a bursary application.
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