What’s the best way to bag the best students?
have parents who say they’re not interested in scholarships because it just adds more stress, and some children don’t want to be singled out and have extra work to do,” Wallis adds. At Headington School in Oxford, scholars are offered the opportunity to go on additional trips and attend talks, as well as take part in special social events, says the headmistress, Caroline Jordan. Academic scholars are expected to continue performing at a suitable level, while drama, music and sports scholars take part in the wider life of the school.
“We expect them to engage with whatever scholarship they have got,” she says. “If they’re a sports scholar, we expect them to be involved in sports teams.”
Scholarships at Headington, worth £300 a year, are awarded at 11, 13 and the sixth form. The process is different at each stage, but all include an exam and interview. “We’re looking for something on top of being able to pass the entrance exam,” Jordan says.
Awards generally cover the remainder of the child’s time at school, but can be taken away. “Scholars have a responsibility to lead,” says Fleck. “In the past I have removed scholarships for poor behaviour or where they have failed to set a proper example.”
Students may also relinquish their scholarship voluntarily. A pupil who joins the school as a music scholar at 11 may relinquish their scholarship if his or her interests change.
But Jordan says most do not find it too onerous. “They cope very well. All our girls want to achieve their very best,” she adds. “I wouldn’t say there was undue pressure for them to do well. They do have to keep working at a high level, but they do that because of the support they get and they enjoy working hard.”
As well as satisfying the Charity Commission, scholarships help to attract able students. “Schools are competing for talent and it is a means by which to encourage entry into the school,” says Fleck. “It is no different to an employer offering differential benefits.”
Bursaries play a different role — they are intended to support able students whose families would not otherwise be able to afford the fees, while scholarships reward ability regardless of means. At Froebelian School, a prep school near Leeds, all financial assistance is in the form of bursaries, and headmaster John Tranmer, a former chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, says that offering places to less affluent families is an important part of their ethos. “It is about social diversity,” he says. “When you charge fees there is exclusivity built in, but we want to be able to offer our education to people who would not normally be able to afford it.”
Bursary applications normally involve detailing a family’s financial circumstances, taking into account assets as well as income. And at some schools, bursaries are based on ability as well as need. “The pot is very limited and we feel it should be for people who really need it and have got the most academic potential,” says Jo MacKenzie, headmistress of Bedford Girls’ School.
Both the Charity Commission and the Independent Schools Council are known to favour bursaries over scholarships and this seems likely to represent the future for such support. But for now, the two gateways to excellence continue to co-exist.
For advice on bursaries visit isc.co.uk, iaps.org.uk or goodschoolsguide.co.uk; for a list of scholarships at Head Masters' Conference schools visit hmc.org.uk