How to find scholarships, bursaries and funding for private schools in the UK

You probably know that private education in the UK can come with a hefty price tag. The costs of private schooling can vary dramatically, so if you’re set on sending your child to an independent school but you’re worried about feeling the pinch financially, it’s worth exploring all the options to reduce the burden on your bank account.

Additional help is available to support families who would not ordinarily be able to afford private school – if you know where to look.

Let’s run through the options to help you find an affordable way to give your child a private education.

What’s the difference between scholarships and bursaries?

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Although both scholarships and bursaries will help to reduce the expense of private education, they are not exactly the same. In brief, scholarships are solely awarded on the basis of pupil performance, whereas bursaries are predominantly means-tested, and may have other criteria attached.

Scholarships in private education

Firstly, let’s look at scholarships. A scholarship is an award given to a student in recognition of their attainment. The award is usually a reduction in school fees and can be awarded for achievements in academic subjects or in other fields such as music or sports.

The scholarships available to students are decided by the individual school and tend to reflect the aims or specialisms of the school. Often, a scholarship is aligned with the values of the award’s donor or founder.

If your child gains a scholarship, you could expect to see a substantial decrease in school fees, perhaps between 20% and 40%. But as with the fees themselves, there can be sizable variations between the generosity of the scholarships that schools offer. For example, a scholarship at Eton can be worth just 10% of a child’s school fees, although there are circumstances where 100% of fees will be covered on a means-tested basis. And some schools offer only honorary scholarships, recognising a child’s achievements with a gesture worth around £60.

There is a potential downside to this way of deciding on a reduction in school fees, though. Some scholarship students can feel immense pressure to perform if their place at a beloved private school is reliant on them maintaining their grades. So if finances could be stretched by private school without a scholarship, consider your child’s feelings carefully – are they the type to thrive under pressure, or could they risk anxiety and burnout?

When choosing a school, shop around to find out what scholarships your child might be eligible for. If a scholarship is important for affordability, it’s worth remembering that since scholarships are often financed by donations or legacies given by past pupils, older private schools could have more available than recently established institutes.

Bursaries for children at independent schools

A bursary is a financial support package granted to help families who’d otherwise struggle to pay private school fees. Help given to students in this way is sometimes known as an assisted place.

The most common question that parents ask is “are bursaries means tested?” The answer is yes, bursaries are given based on evidence of parents’ income and assets. At some schools, bursaries are available to parents earning up to £120,000. Parents or guardians will need to fill out a declaration form to show their eligibility when applying for a bursary.

As with scholarships, the generosity of assisted places can vary dramatically between schools. Bursaries granted to pupils at private schools can range from 5% of the school fees all the way up to 100%.

It’s worth noting that although the primary way schools assess eligibility for a bursary is through means testing, there may be other criteria attached, too. This is because there are limits to the financial support a school can offer, and so they may only be open to particularly bright students with a strong aptitude for their learning and schoolwork.

Check with your chosen private school to find out what is available before you apply, and remember to talk to your school if your financial circumstances change while your child is a pupil – they may be able to help.

Public funding for private schools: state-backed grants

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Empty school classroom

Although the government doesn’t usually pay for private education, there are some groups of children in the UK who may be eligible for state support with their private school fees.

Armed forces and civil service grants for school fees

Children with parents who need to travel abroad as part of their work for the UK government or military can benefit from having up to 90% of their school fees paid by the state. The Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) is a scheme that’s open to children with parents in any rank, and aims to ensure that children don’t have their education disrupted by moving around the world with a parent’s posting. It gives them the option of attending the private school of their choice – provided that parents pay 10% of the school fees.

The CEA payments can be worth around £20,000 per year, with allowances for the academic year beginning Autumn 2021 at £6,096 per term for junior school and £7,847 for senior students.

However, most ordinary soldiers still feel unable to afford the scheme, so, more often than not, it’s higher-ranking service personnel who take advantage of this funding. If you’d like to determine whether private school could be a viable option for your service family, get in touch.

Private school funding for children with special educational needs

There are certain circumstances where the state may fund private school fees for children whose parents are not military or civil service staff. If your child has special educational needs, it’s possible that the Local Authority (LA) will pay the school fees.

However, this will only happen if an independent school is listed in section 1 of your child’s EHC plan and there’s no other suitable school nearby. This is because the LA remains responsible for your child’s special educational provision, even if there’s no appropriate state school for your child to attend.

If there is a suitable state alternative nearby, though, the local authoruty will place your child in that school rather than a private school.

Families in crisis: other funding options for private education

Financing a private education is a long-term commitment, and sadly, the costs involved can put private schools out of reach for many families. As a business helping parents understand whether private schooling is financially possible, the last thing we’d want is for anyone to face challenges in the future, for instance, if personal circumstances change.

Fortunately, there’s support available for families struggling to pay school fees, whether due to bereavement, financial hardship, family crisis or other adversity.

In the UK, several charities help children to maintain their education – and their stability – during difficult times, by contributing to or paying for their school fees.

For families facing the possibility of having to withdraw a child from an independent school due to financial worries, the Educational Trusts’ Forum has a list of charities that may be able to give assistance. Some of the charitable organisations listed here specialise in helping children with parents in particular professions or vocations, like seafarers, armed forces personnel or doctors registered with the GMC (General Medical Council). Others support single-parent families or children who have lost both parents.

If you find yourself having difficulty financially, a charity may be able to help pay your child’s school fees. It’s worth investigating the options thoroughly to avoid disrupting your child’s education at what could already be a distressing time.

Investing in school fees

Paying for a private education for your child is a long-term investment that almost always requires a substantial financial commitment. We help families to work out whether private school is the right choice for them by putting together a School Fees Plan. It’ll help you fund your child’s school fees without neglecting your own personal financial goals. Contact us to talk through the options.