Bursaries - The Inside Track

Your family does not have to be anywhere near 'the poverty line' to qualify for financial assistance. Our Undercover Teacher explains how to work out if you might qualify for a private school bursary

If your child will be going into Year 6 next school year, this summer you will probably be beginning to consider where you want your child to go for secondary school. You may want to look at the private schools around you. Despite the headlines about the size of their fees, most offer bursaries for pupils whose parents do not have enough income.

What's more, some offer partial bursaries even if your income is what you might regard as relatively high. This is why currently about one third of pupils in the UK receive some level of financial assistance. A lot of parents just assume they're not eligible but here's what you need to know to work out if you might be.

Bursaries are not just for 'Charlie Buckets'

Something that many people don't realise is that you don't have to be on a particularly low income to receive a bursary of some sort.

Bursaries don't have to be for 100% of the fees. They could be anything - including 75%, 25% or even only 10%. If your child has met the admissions criteria for the school and you think you need help with the fees, then you should ask.

School fees are often so high that it may be possible that even families with household incomes in the early six figures can get help. Of course, be realistic about what you ask for. But, if the need is genuine, do ask.

You can be open with private schools from the start if you think you would need financial help

You are far more likely to be successful with an application for which you require financial assistance if you tell the school about it up front. People often assume that this means your child won't get a place - but that's generally not the case. Most schools will try to help any child able to get in.

Schools normally only have a certain 'pot' available for bursaries, so it is obviously helpful if your child has done well in the examination and interview. Some schools may be capable of helping out financially however your child did, as long as they passed the entrance criteria.

Usually, if your child has gained a place through the exam and/or interview, the school will then perform an assessment of your finances required to grant you the bursary.

Don't mix up scholarships and bursaries

Scholarships are purely merit based. They are offered to applicants regardless of their financial status, which makes them different from bursaries. Scholarships can be offered on the basis of musical, dramatic, art or sporting skill and some schools offer full or partial scholarships to those who come top in their entrance exams. Some schools might also offer a scholarship to a pupil who is considering other schools as an inducement to choose them.

Bursaries involve a rigorous means-test

Every school will have their own individually set criteria for whom to give a bursary to and for how much. For any school to offer your child a bursary, you will be scrupulously means-tested.

But it's important to know this isn't always just on income. It can also be about wealth. The school will also most likely look at your outgoings because you might have a large or relatively large income coupled with large essential outgoings for dependent family members - which could work in your favour.

You are also likely to receive a home visit from school staff. This is part of their investigation, but it is also to get to know you, as if you receive a bursary you will probably have someone from school who manages the school's relationship with you, answering your questions and concerns and offering support.

Quick Myth-Buster: Private schools don't offer bursaries just because they are charities

You often hear that schools only offer bursaries so that they can keep their charitable status. This is partially true - it is one of the easier ways to prove that a school has a charitable purpose but if you think about how many pupils get them, you might not be surprised that there are also other motivations.

A school can broaden its intake in terms of social mix and ensure it doesn't miss out on local pupils with high academic ability by offering bursaries. Some heads also truly believe in making their school entry process 'means-blind', which means that if your child gets through the exam and interview, their attendance will be facilitated, regardless of your ability to pay for it.

For more information on choosing schools check out our Insider Guide on choosing schools

Disclaimer: Here at Bright Horizons, we understand that you're the expert on your own child or children, parenting isn't homogenous and it's each to their own. Opinions are solely the views of the author not My Family Care or Bright Horizons and are there to inform and help provoke thought and reflection on parenting situations and life dilemmas that naturally have no right or wrong.