“I think he might be even cleverer than his brother,” said Monika, “so I’d like him to try.” She meant tto ry for a place at Latymer Upper. Peter’s brother was at a good comprehensive and would have done well anywhere. Monika worried that Peter was unconfident and, at his brother’s school, might lose interest and drift. Just before I was due to meet Peter to test his English and maths, Monika called. “Forget it,” she said. “I’ve lost my job. And his dad’s on zero hours.” “Bring him anyway,” I said. “We might as well take a look.”
Peter turned out to be a natural. He grasped how to approach a comprehension exercise without being told and wrote a beautiful essay. His maths was swift and accurate. He tried for Latymer Upper on the understanding that he could only take up the place with hefty assistance from the school with the fees. He was awarded a bursary which covered 100% of the fees plus additional help with extras.
This does not happen every day but a third of children attending independent schools now get some help with the fees in the form of scholarships and bursaries.
Since the government’s Direct Grant and Assisted Places schemes were abandoned, schools have built up their own funds in order to offer places to the bright children of broke – or semi-broke – parents. Why? They need pupils who will bring them top results and sporting glory so that they attract more of the same.
School fees have gone up out of all proportion to average wages and even to house prices in the last ten years.
In 2007, Westminster School charged just under £16,000 for a day place. Today you’d pay £26,130 – a rise of nearly 64%, whereas average salaries have risen only around 15% in that time. Godolphin and Latymer charged just under £12,000 in 2007. Now it’s just under £21,000 – a rise of 75%. For most professional families independent schooling in London is no longer affordable.
So, what help is available?
Most London independents offer at least some fee assistance in the form of scholarships and bursaries. These days, few scholarships are worth a major chunk of the fees, though some – awarded for promise in e.g. academics, sports, art, music, drama etc. – can cover up to 50% of the fees in some cases. Schools now channel most of their available funds into means-tested bursaries. These go to children who, like Peter, would not be able to attend the school without financial help. 100% bursaries are relatively rare (though University College School had 52 pupils on this level of assistance when we visited) but many schools will offer 25% or 50% to those pupils they really want and the bursary can be supplemented by a scholarship for able children. You can have both.
You have to be prepared to reveal your home circumstances every year – with complete honesty.
But you can have a joint income of a surprisingly high amount (up to £120,000 at St Paul’s Boys’) and still qualify for some help. And it’s not just your income that is scrutinised but your essential outgoings and lifestyle. So, if you have elderly parents to support that would be taken into account. But if you take four holidays a year, have two homes and a yacht, you can probably forget it.
Not all schools have much to give away but some have lots. If you want to give this a go, you need to educate yourselves on what could be available to you so as to give it the best shot.
The Good Schools Guide holds up-to-date information on the fee assistance offered by more than 700 schools and is the only centralised source of such general information.
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by SUSAN HAMLYN, Director at The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants