As a parent, I know that choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you have to make, which is why so many of us carefully examine all the available options before settling on our preferred choice.
For many families, thoughts of sending your child to an independent school don't ever enter your mind. There's a considerable long-term financial commitment attached, right?
There's no denying that making the decision to educate your child privately requires you to think long and hard about your financial situation. But the independent school route may be more affordable than you think - according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the year 2015/16 has seen a 2.6% lift in the financial support their schools offer parents towards the payment of fees. The figures suggest that a third more pupils are now receiving help with school fees - to the tune of £850 million.
This could put independent education within the reach of an increased number of families. There are staff in fee-paying schools who are experts in helping families to secure financial support too, so you may not want to rule it out completely when you are looking at schools for your child.
Let's look at the options for financial help in more detail.
The scholarship route
The aim of a scholarship is to attract pupils who have particular talents or strengths. Many independent schools offer them and are keen to encourage families to apply for them. If your child is academically gifted or excels in music, sport or art, you may wish to look into the fee-paying schools that offer a scholarship in these areas.
Some schools make scholarships available to those pupils who you might describe as strong all-rounders or children whose particular attributes are considered to be a good fit for the school community.
Things to think about:
- Scholarships, like schools, come in different shapes and sizes. Contact the school's bursar, who will be very happy to provide you with all the information you need and can answer any questions you may have about the scholarships on offer.
- Some scholarship schemes provide a nominal amount of financial assistance, others offer a 10 to 20 percent reduction in fees. In some schools, a scholarship can cover the fees in their entirety so check the details with the school.
- Some schools will also cover the cost of some of the extras as part of the scholarship - this could be anything from uniform and trips to tablet devices to support learning - so be sure to ask about this.
- Schools offer a wealth of advice and guidance to parents on winning a scholarship so do take advantage of this. The process can be competitive - your child may be required to take an open exam or test, for example, in the academic year before the planned admission, but staff can help ensure you apply in good time.
How bursaries work
While a bursary can cover up to 100% of the fees, they are designed to provide support for able pupils whose financial circumstances are such that they would otherwise be unable to attend an independent school.
In the interest of fair-mindedness bursaries tend to be means tested, but if you are considering this approach, the school's bursar will be happy to explain exactly what is required and can help you prepare the information you need to apply.
Things to think about:
- You are likely to be asked to provide detailed information on your financial situation - this could include anything from the value of your assets to information on your typical take-home pay.
- The school may want to know about your household outgoings - you could be asked about the value of your house, for example, or typical outgoings on holidays each year. Some schools may want to ask about whether the child's grandparents would be in a position to help with fees.
- Every school has its own set of rules around bursaries so don't be afraid to ask if you have any questions. The best approach is to be open and realistic about your situation.
- The process of securing a bursary can take at least two years so do your research and get your financial information in place, well before you plan for your child to start at the school. If your child meets the criteria to be awarded a bursary, the school will be keen to ensure you get all the help you need for your application to go smoothly.
Navigating your way through the process of securing help with fees might at first seem like a long and complex journey. But bursars are experienced in making it as easy as possible for families and they will offer plenty of guidance to help you get the education you want for your child.
For more information on SIMS Independent, visit www.capita-independent.co.uk