How can I afford my child’s education?

It is true that an independent school education, particularly at senior school, can be expensive, and may seem out of reach to some families. The good news, however, is that the vast majority of independent schools have some – often significant – funds to help children come to the school who could not otherwise afford to do so. Moreover, schools are increasingly looking to extend the reserves that they have available for this purpose, so now is a good time to be looking for options.

Start by contacting the school or schools that you are considering for your son or daughter. Most schools offer competitive scholarships, which can provide a financial award in the form of a discount from the fees subject to passing additional exams or assessments. The nature of scholarships varies considerably from school to school – they can, for example, be offered for academic achievement, music, drama, art, sport and/or all-round performance. Sometimes, a benefactor may have endowed an award for a particular type of child – a resident of the local parish, for instance, or a child who has lost a parent – so it is worth doing your research and finding out what is available.

It is worth, too, asking about bursary schemes. These schemes again offer financial support, usually in the form of a fees discount, to the family of the child at the school, and are not dependent on academic or other prowess, although it would be fair to say that most schools would expect a decent level of commitment and engagement with the life of the school from any pupil who joins the school. While many bursaries are often reserved for families who get into financial difficulty during their years at the school, more schools are now offering bursaries to pupils from their point of entry, often at the discretion of the Head or the Board of Governors, so it is worth exploring this avenue.

If you are worried that your circumstances will make day fees a struggle, then you may not even consider looking at boarding, but in fact, many boarding schools offer considerable bursaries and scholarships, and parents should cast their net wide in looking for a part-funded or fully-funded place for their child. There has been a move in recent years for most awards to become means-tested, so that they genuinely help those most in need. This has had the added advantage that schools have been able to spread out their available assistance more effectively, and therefore offer more awards, which is good news for families seeking assistance. Schools often have some flexibility and discretion in making additional awards to those advertised on their websites, so do not be afraid to ask.

Schools also operate a number of other schemes which offer fee discounts, and although not all schools will offer all of them, it is most certainly worth enquiring. Discounts are frequently offered for the children of parents in HM Forces, for instance, and sometimes for the children of clergy. Some schools offer sibling discounts, and staff in independent schools too often benefit from a discount on the fees, so it is worth looking out for posts as they come up.
Finally, it is sometimes possible to find educational grant-giving bodies which will help support your child through their education. A good place to start in this respect is the Independent Schools Council (the Independent Schools Council is the main body representing independent schools in the UK), where you can also search for schools by type of assistance offered. As you would expect, most educational grants are provided by charities which wish to support very low income or disadvantaged children, but bodies also exist to support children with specific needs. JET, Joint Educational Trust, for example, exists to help support children between the ages of 7 and 13 who have suffered some kind of tragedy or trauma, and whose families would not otherwise be able to afford to send them to an independent school.

There is of course no substitute for planning ahead, both in researching the options available and in planning financially. Education is probably the greatest gift you can give your child, and it is worth saving for. Do keep looking for help, however – bear in mind that last year, almost a third of pupils in ISC schools received some kind of financial assistance.

Dr Helen Wright, Former Headmistress, St Mary’s Calne

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