Most independent schools divert their funds towards bursaries that encourage high-achieving, talented and ambitious children from lower-income families to join their school. They are not to be confused with scholarships, which have far less financial value; instead, these are all about the prestige and honour of being a scholar. Read more about Applying for a scholarship to a UK school.
Means-tested ‘bursaries’ have increased in the past decade by over £175 million to over £464 million, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents more than 1,300 independent schools in the UK. Last year, just over 59,000 of its students were awarded a non-means tested scholarship, each receiving an average of £3,380 per year; ISC figures also show that around 6,000 students pay no fees at all thanks to a bursary or a scholarship and nearly half the students on means-tested bursaries have more than half of their fees remitted.
Some students are awarded ‘life-changing’ bursaries that cover 100% of the school fees, plus extras such as uniform, meals, extra-curricular activities and trips; other bursaries award a top-up of 5%-90% based on what the family can afford. Many UK schools have growing bursary funds (with income coming from alumni donations, international campuses, and sponsorships) and there are some schools with a much greater bursary ‘pot’ than others.
We take a look at how some of the UK’s leading day and boarding schools are making a private education more affordable – and accessible – to some.
This co-ed day and boarding school in Sussex, where annual boarding fees are nearly £39,000, offers bursary supported places for boarding students. In 2020-21, Christ’s Hospital offered 101 free places, and its average spending per student on scholarships and bursaries was £24,088, compared with an average of £5,284 per student at Eton.
It’s an academically selective school, and bursaries of up to 100% are awarded based on family income and academic testing. Bursaries include a Gatwick Bursary Award for bright students from the Gatwick area, and a Making the Leap award for students living in the NW10 postcode area of London.
Read our full review of Christ’s Hospital School.
One of the world’s best-known schools, this all boy, all boarding school achieved a total of 47 Oxbridge offers last year. Whilst an Eton education has become associated with members of the aristocracy, the British royal family and government, it is broadening its student catchment to children from a variety of backgrounds with a generous bursary system.
The school has a budget of £9.4 million for scholarships and bursaries in 2022-23 and it spent over £7 million in 2020-21. Bursaries range from 5% to 100%, and in 2020/21 the average award was 68% of the fee; 261 boys received a fee reduction and 90 of these boys paid no fees at all.
Read our review of Eton College.
Whitgift is a highly selective day and boarding all-boys’ school for around 1,500 students, with the choice of IB, A Levels and BTECs at Sixth Form and a broad curriculum that focuses on developing independent thinking. Described as a school ‘for bright boys from all backgrounds’, by head Chris Ramsey, Whitgift has one of the biggest educational bursary systems in the UK.
Around a quarter of boys at Whitgift are on “significant means-tested bursaries”, and just under 50% are receiving some financial aid. The school is committed to doubling this figure over the next decade. It receives £2.15m annually from the John Whitgift Foundation, meaning it can offer bursaries up to 110% of the fee amount, which also covers school uniform, lunches, travel and school trips.
Read our review of Whitgift School.
Taunton School is an all-rounder school offering plenty of opportunities to excel in academic studies as well celebrate sporting and artistic achievements. Enrolling students from a broad range of academic and cultural backgrounds, this Devon school has a global outlook, an embedded culture of student wellbeing, and a broad sixth-form curriculum.
Enrolling students from a broad range of academic and cultural backgrounds, Taunton offers XX assisted places, which includes means tested IB Scholarships covering up to 100% of the total fees. With annual boarding fees of up to £37,920, the school had an average spend of £6,969 per student on scholarships and bursaries in 2020-21 according to a study by The Sunday Times. The school says it will offer up to 100% of fees in “extreme cases” and is more likely to offer a means-tested award as a top-up to support a parent’s payment of fees.
Read our review of Taunton School.
Benenden is an all-girls boarding school that combines a rigorous academic UK-based curriculum with a focus on developing professional skills, an extensive co-curricular programme, a strong weekend programme of activities – and a huge dose of fun.
This year, it launched a campaign to triple the number of fully funded bursary places by the end of the school’s centenary year in 2023-24; the aim is to have 24 bursary funded students in the school at any given time. Benenden awards up to 110% of fees, with the additional funds covering school uniforms, educational trips and other ongoing learning and living expenses.
Read our review of Benenden.
Wellington College is a heavyweight player in the UK public school sector, and one of the top five English co-educational day and boarding schools for the International Baccalaureate. Whilst Wellington is selective, there are mixed ability children at the school, and the school prides itself on tailoring education to the gifts of each child.
Wellington has “very generous” bursaries for pupils who have lost parents through acts of selfless bravery, whether from the Forces or otherwise. Outside this, there are means-tested bursaries for up to 100% of fees; the school typically awards 20 bursaries for 13+ and 16+ entry only for an average 50% remission.
Read our review of Wellington College.
Dulwich College is a selective day and boarding school in London with the combination of heritage and forward-thinking vision that many British public schools are renowned for. While it is most certainly a school for the academically-minded, Dulwich also has a strong pioneering spirit, a history of philanthropy, and a focus on the development of passionate free learners.
The school awards over £4 million every year to support 200 bursary awards, and 95 students currently receive a free place at Dulwich College. It aims to offer 50% of students’ financial assistance in the form of either scholarships or bursaries; while the school is way off that target, in 2020 it did award 191 means-tested bursaries to boys and their families. The majority of bursaries are offered on entry to Year 7 (11+), but there are also bursaries offered to boys joining in Years 3 (7+), 4 (8+), 5 (9+), 9 (13+) and 12 (16+).
Read our review of Dulwich College.
Manchester Grammar School is a large all-boys city school with over 1,600 students which attracts some of the most academic and bright male students in Northern England. Located in Greater Manchester, this all-boys school for seven to 18-year olds consistently performs well above average in GCSE and A Level results and has an excellent track record of preparing boys for the UK’s top universities.
Thanks to a generous bursary programme (there's around 220 boys out of 1,500 at MGS receiving bursaries), the school community is diverse as well as international. Annual fees at MGS, the UK’s largest independent day school for boys in the UK, are £13,980.
Read our review of Manchester Grammar School.
Reigate Grammar School is an academically selective co-ed senior school in Surrey with a nurturing approach to education, a broad extra-curricular offering, and a flexible curriculum that includes an extended three-year GCSE programme. About half the students are from state schools and half from prep schools.
Founded in 1675, as a school for poor children, RGS continues to introduce a range of initiatives to support students from less-advantaged backgrounds. These include the Nightingale Fund which consists of 10 new bursaries, worth up to 100% of fees, to children of low-paid NHS workers, as well as means-tested Sixth Form bursaries for students pursuing a career in medicine. During 2020-21 RGS, where annual tuition fees are £20,425, supported a total of 52 students through bursaries.
Read our review of Reigate Grammar School.
Shrewsbury School brings all the rigour of a British public school education to the banks of the River Severn in the UK, while balancing it with a well-rounded education in sport, the arts and pastoral care. With around 80% of students boarding, Shrewsbury is close to being a full boarding school and it has a truly international student body.
The number of means-tested awards increased from 130 in 2016-17 to 164 in 2018-19, when the school awarded bursaries worth £2.28 million. It plans to increase the number of transformative bursaries for students in need of 75%-plus remission to 40 by 2030, through philanthropy, fundraising and the development of alternative income streams.
Read our review of Shrewsbury School.
A progressive all-through co-ed day and boarding school with outstanding academic results, first-class facilities, a strong social responsibility, and a very charming coastal location. As well as being known for its academic strengths, this all-through UK curriculum school has a reputation for innovative initiatives such as creating a gender-neutral school uniform and having mixed boarding houses, as well as its generous bursary programme.
The school awards means-tested bursaries for day places in Years 7 to 13 only, and these are typically in the 5%-30% range, depending on the financial circumstances of the families applying. Full bursaries are offered to talented and ambitious young people from the local area who have “experienced a significant disadvantage”.
Read our review of Brighton College.