Private school bursaries can be a lifeline for families who would otherwise be unable to afford the best education for their child. We explain what they are, how it works, and your other options.

Understanding Private School Bursaries

May 4th 2016

In today’s tough economic climate, private schooling can seem out of reach even for families with strong incomes.  Fortunately, virtually all independent schools offer bursaries of some kind – a lifeline for families who would otherwise be unable to afford the best education for their child.

What’s the Difference Between a Bursary and a Scholarship?

If young Edwina is a star musician, or little Albert has his sights on the Olympics one day, your child may be able to get a scholarship. These are awarded purely on talent, without taking account of the child’s financial circumstances, and are usually given for outstanding potential in sports, music or the arts. However, although a nice accolade for your child, scholarships can be worth very little, financially – perhaps only a 10% discount on the fees.

A bursary, on the other hand, can be worth a great deal more. Bursaries are awarded purely on the basis of financial need and can be full or partial. A full bursary is effectively a free school place; a partial bursary will cover a proportion of the school fees. Approximately 40% of children in receipt of a bursary have more than half of their fees covered, while around 13% receive full bursaries.

Why do Private Schools Offer Bursaries?

Private schools are increasingly reliant on wealthy overseas pupils whose families pay the full fees; statistics suggest that more than one third of pupils from the UK receive some kind of financial assistance. In order to qualify for charitable status or tax benefits, schools must show that they are working for the public good, and offering generous bursaries is one way of proving this.

Of course, it’s also good for the school’s ethos and diversity. “Bursaries allow the most talented children to access schools which would ordinarily be out of their reach,” comments Steve Spriggs, MD of education consultancy William Clarence Education. “These gifted children are assets which the school would otherwise miss out on. It’s a win-win, for the school and the child.”

What Does the Bursary Application Process Involve?

The bursary application process involves a thorough financial vetting. Expect to have to declare in full your family earnings and income, assets and liabilities. Some schools conduct home visits too, and will look at the family’s lifestyle and living circumstances.

Won’t My Child be Bullied for Having a Bursary?

No. Schools never reveal to other pupils which students have bursaries, and families are given every assistance to “fit in” right from the start. Your child will be not be treated as a second class student.

Are There Other Sources of Financial Help?

Yes, there are. Certain charitable grant making trusts can also provide assistance with school fees. Some will help in cases of “genuine need” – for instance with boarding costs if a child’s home is not suitable, or where there has been an unforeseen family disaster or death. Others are more surprising – did you know that you may be eligible for financial assistance because of your nationality (eg Scottish), your job, or your religion? There are a wide variety of charitable foundations out there, so do your research thoroughly in order to not miss out on any potential sources of assistance.

“If your child meets the academic and other criteria for entry to a private school, you have a lot of options for financial support,” says Steve Spriggs. “Private schooling can be much more accessible than people think, so it’s vital not to limit your child’s future options simply because you wrongly fear that you can’t afford the fees.”




William Clarence Education is the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, we help and advise families from around the world to reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of British education.  

William Clarence put the student’s needs and welfare at the centre of every programme of study we deliver with a focus on integrity and discretion.  Services include UK School and University Placement, Residential Tutoring, Oxbridge Application, US College Admission and Homeschooling.

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