Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Help with Fees Doesn't Always Go to the Poorest

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Help with Fees Doesn't Always Go to the Poorest

Article excerpt

Only a quarter of recipients are from low-income homes

Just one in four students who receive financial support from independent schools are given help because they are from low-income backgrounds, new figures suggest.

Although 41,400 pupils received a means-tested bursary in 2014, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by those receiving financial support for other reasons.

More than 66,200 pupils received funding through "eligible families" schemes, which offer discounts for children of the clergy, armed forces and those with other siblings at the school. More than 52,600 scholarships were also awarded, according to the annual census of the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, told TES that the number of children from low-income families receiving fee assistance was likely to be higher than it appeared, as some scholarships were awarded to pupils whose families could not otherwise afford fees.

But he called on private schools to use means testing to make sure support was given to those who needed it most.

"The higher the proportion that can be means-tested, the better, because it's a more accurate way of targeting money at the issue most of us want to approach, which is making our schools affordable," he said. "Over the past 20 years, schools have reduced the amount of money that is given in scholarships to pupils who don't need them."

Funding for "eligible families" should not be scaled back, Mr Lenon said, because many of these were "very deserving" and some of the money had been donated to schools precisely to support these pupils.

But Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, which aims to promote social mobility, said "much more" needed to be done to open independent schools up to pupils "on the basis of ability rather than ability to pay".

The charity said schools should "look at maximising the extent to which bursaries are targeted at those with modest means" by making greater use of means testing. It also published a report last year which argues that the system needs to be "transformed" because "today, unless your parents can find £12,500 a year after tax, access is by and large denied".

Family affair

Adam Pettitt, headmaster of the independent Highgate School in London (see panel, right), said many schools had moved away from scholarships offering fee remission in recent years. …

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