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BLOGHow to Get a Scholarship to a Top UK Private School

Labour’s vow to add VAT to fees has many parents worried. From awards for academic and sporting talent to means-tested funds, here is your guide to the help on offer

Welcome to scholarship season. As parents begin to apply for financial awards to help to pay private school fees, a Sunday Times analysis of the latest data shows that a two-tier market is emerging.

A survey into the accounts of 50 top private schools has found that amid a cost of living crisis and with the looming threat of having to pay 20 per cent VAT under a Labour government, some have cut back sharply on financial support. Others, for optics, politics or to help, are investing heavily in fully funded places to offer to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The findings also show that:

  • One in three of the 50 schools, including the Perse School Cambridgeand Cheltenham Ladies’ College, have cut spending over the past year.
  • Eleven schools have increased their bursary and scholarship budget by more than 16 per cent over the same period, including Charterhouse, which boosted its total spend on financial awards by nearly 45 per cent to £2.4 million; Eton CollegeSherborne SchoolBenendenHampton School; and Reigate Grammar School, which Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, attended.
  • Four schools were found to have an average per-pupil spend on scholarships and bursaries of £7,000 or more.
  • Eighteen schools had an average spend on financial awards of less than £2,000 per pupil.
  • Highgate School, whose head teacher is one of the best paid in the country, appears close to the bottom of the rankings.
  • Christ’s Hospital, in West Sussex, remains out in front on bursary and scholarship spend per pupil.
  • Eton Collegeand Latymer Upper School have more pupils than last year on bursaries of 100 per cent or more than 100 per cent of fees.
  • One in three pupils receive some form of scholarship or bursary support. Some are awarded both.

The private school sector is at the centre of a growing political storm. Starmer’s pledge to impose VAT on private schools if a Labour government is elected next year could mean that parents will face a fee increase of 20 per cent — although experts say it is more likely that schools will pass on a rise of about 15 per cent. Still, many families are worried about how they will cover the additional cost, particularly in light of the spike in the cost of living, and are scrutinising afresh the financial help on offer from schools.

“I always say to put your child in for a fee-paying school even if you are not financially well off,” says Gavin Horgan, the headmaster at Millfield School in Somerset. It costs £47,775 a year to board at the school, which is famous for its sporting alumni. It is set on increasing the financial support available for less well-off families, Horgan says, while other schools cut back.

“As there is an increased pressure of the tax on fees, the schools will have to find the money from somewhere and that means there will be less available for bursaries at independent schools,” he says. “That will mean less choice for parents.”

His top tip? Just ask.

“Sometimes the British reluctance to ask for money gets in the way of a good candidate getting a good private school education.”

Scholarships can be awarded to pupils who are gifted in subjects from academia to dance and tennis, but typically cover only about 5 to 10 per cent of fees. Bursaries, however, can cover 100 per cent of fees. “It is a requirement of the regulator that we are open about these things,” Horgan says. He advises searching a school’s website to find the full details of bursary and scholarship provision and how to apply. Or you can read an overview in the Parent Power profiles.

In their application parents will need to be open about finances. “Bursaries are means-tested and schools will look at all assets,” Horgan says. “If families are sitting on large properties, schools would expect them to liquidate some of that to pay for fees.” He adds: “It is important schools don’t allow parents to get into a position where they can’t afford fees in future.

“We decide whether a child will get a place, then whether they can afford the fees and then whether they are eligible for a bursary. Most schools work like that.”

Should you own a £1 million house with no mortgage, for instance, even if your income is comparatively low, you may not be awarded a bursary. Even so, Horgan says, families that have an income of £65,000 or less “would be sensible to apply for a bursary”.

Nettie Glandfield, 17, from Seaford, East Sussex, won a scholarship and bursary to attend the girls-only school Roedean in Brighton. She scored in the top 10 per cent of pupils in the entrance exam and was awarded means-tested support based on the income of her mother, who works for the Royal Mail, and her father, a fireman. Combined the awards cover up to 70 per cent of the fees, Glandfield says. She hopes to study medicine at university.

Roedean says it can fund up to 30 per cent of the fees through scholarships if it thinks a child will “really flourish here”. The basic award is £2,500, but a head’s scholarship can be added “where flexibility is required”.

Other sources of support include the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation and Buttle UK, while itrust — the charitable arm of the Independent Association of Prep Schools — helps with fees for younger pupils. For a full list of options, visit the Educational Trusts’ Forum at

At some schools financial assistance is available to families with particular backgrounds. For example, the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich offers discounts to children whose parents serve or have served in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Fleet Auxiliary. While the government’s Music and Dance Scheme can cover up to 100 per cent of fees at specialist schools such as the Purcell School for Young Musicians in Bushey, Hertfordshire.

Eton College offers large scholarships to talented pupils who might be unable to attend private school


Increasingly schools are fundraising not for new facilities but to support talented pupils who might otherwise be unable to afford to attend private school. It can be a life-altering opportunity, as the 16-year-old East End comprehensive schoolboy Hasan Patel found in 2019. The son of a bus conductor had the “biggest culture shock ever” when he won a £76,000 scholarship to Eton College.

He left behind the bedroom that he shared with his brothers on a London council estate for Eton’s tailcoat and stiff collar. Instead of “constant violence” in the schoolyard and free school meals, he could look forward to muffins and elevenses. He has no regrets.

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Copyright by RD Medya. All rights reserved.

Copyright by RD Medya. All rights reserved.