Scholarships at UK Independent Schools

Everything you need to know about scholarships to UK schools, and a closer look at just how schools are rewarding students’ academic, sporting, musical and artistic achievements.
Scholarships at UK Independent Schools
By Carli Allan
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The world of scholarships in UK independent schools is a minefield. While Harrow School will award a scholarship worth 5% of the cost of school fees, Eton College’s New Foundation Scholarship covers 100% of fees and extras. Scholarships at King Edward's School, Birmingham range in value from 5% to 50% of the annual school fees, while Bedales offers up to £500 to be spent on books. It is no wonder parents are left scratching their heads trying to work out what their child may be eligible for, and how to get it.

As every academic year passes, UK school scholarships become less about financial value and more about prestige. No longer are scholarships the way to fund a private education in the UK, although they can be the stepping-stone to a means-tested bursary. So, what is a scholarship? Why even bother applying? And where can you find the best scholarships for academia, sport, the arts, and even skateboarding!

What is a scholarship worth?

A scholarship is all about brilliance. If your child is an outstanding mathematician, sports player, artist (or even skateboarder) they could be awarded a scholarship. Schools are looking for academic ability and potential on paper, or talent and promise in areas such as swimming, rugby, music, design or chess.

Don’t expect a scholarship to cover the full cost of your child’s education, though. As most independent schools divert their funds towards bursaries that encourage high-achieving children from lower-income families to join their school, scholarships have far less financial value. Instead, it’s all about the prestige and honour of being a scholar – and getting that huge confidence boost of being selected by a school from hundreds of applicants.

Scholarships typically cover 5-10% of the tuition fees, sometimes as much as 50%, so that can still leave you a hefty double figure sum for a school place per year. Some schools do not provide a reduction in school fees at all, such as Oundle School.

No fee remission is attached to a scholarship as we believe its integrity lies in its honorary capacity,” the Peterborough-based school says.

Other schools award parents a credit; at Windermere School, a scholarship will earn you up to £350 a year to be redeemed against school trips and events. Music scholars at Durham School receive free music tuition on two instruments as well as up to 50% fee remission.

Schools often offer a small number of Headmaster or Headmistress Scholarships which carry higher fee reductions of up to 50% and recognise exceptional excellence in a particular area as well as academic ability. You may even be asked if you would like to waive your fee remission; at Ardingly College in West Sussex, families can “enable the financial value to be passed on to another Scholar who requires financial support”.

Students may be awarded an ‘Exhibition’ rather than a ‘Scholarship’ for impressive ability and potential. An Exhibition will offer a lower fee remission or rewards such as free music tuition; Norwich School describes it, “is a tier below scholarship standard” and King’s Worcester says, “an academic exhibition award may be offered to those who narrowly miss out on a scholarship award.”

For those where money really does matter, then you need to consider a bursary, which provides means-tested fee assistance of up to 100% of fees depending on individual family circumstance. You can apply for both a scholarship and a bursary to, quite literally, afford your child one of the most prized places at a school. In fact, many bursaries are only available to students who have been given a scholarship. The good news is that these types of awards are on the increase.

Last year, the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents more than 1,300 independent schools in the UK, reported that just over 59,000 of its students were awarded a non-means tested scholarship, each receiving an average of £3,380 per year.

Nearly half of all students on means-tested bursaries had more than half of their fees remitted and 5,858 paid no fees at all. In contrast, means-tested scholarships are much smaller and over half are for less than 25%. This highlights just how many UK schools have growing bursary funds (with income coming from alumni donations, international campuses, and sponsorships), and how the scholarship pot is emptying.

Next: What are the benefits of a scholarship?

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