Last year, trust schools gave away 168,025 bursaries and scholarships.
Did they get value for money? 

There may still be some people who have not cottoned on to the fact that public schools are determined to go ever more public: but not many. Savvy parents who do not have the funds for full fees, but have bright or talented and hardworking children, now know that they really should ask about help from the school of their choice. And if that school cannot help, they could well find another that will.

Bursars and Trustees of the best schools and colleges are now of a very high calibre so there is method in their generosity. For a start, most bursaries are means-tested rigorously these days: that is only fair. Last year, 40,497 means-tested bursaries were granted at percentages from 10-100%. There were also 3066 means-tested scholarships.

You may remember the time when Tony Blair and Harriet Harman abolished the Assisted Places Scheme? This was a government-funded scheme which enabled children from ordinary backgrounds to have access to the very best education their money could buy. (Or rather, not buy.)

Why that government killed the scheme has always puzzled me. Maybe it did not fit with their outdated supporters of class war in the party that over 60% of Labour voters (and the same percentage of Trades Union members) said they would choose an independent education for their children if they could afford it?  Yet at the same time Tony Blair, Harriet Harman and even that firebrand Diane Abbott were all giving their own children a privileged education. Fortunately, we now live in more enlightened and rather less hypocritical times and attempts at class war raise little more than a stifled yawn.

Although financially there will always be inequalities, the divide is just that – financial. It is this divide that the public schools are determined to bridge. That is their agenda. They are now actively encouraging hardworking children from ordinary families to apply for bursaries and scholarships.

They want to broaden their base: a stale aroma of privilege and exclusivity really isn’t in their best interests. The independent schools need to attract the best talent – not just moneyed parents – in order to stay successful and progressive: and (to some extent) to continue to prove their charitable status.

Despite the media implying that the great independent schools are finding it hard to survive, in fact, the best schools are thriving and they are the envy of the world. For example, Radley College, which seems to be in the news as much as Eton these days, is about to open an 11th boarding house. It does not even advertise. The Head is a brilliant former comprehensive schoolboy. He is keen on recruiting more boys like himself. Eastbourne College has just spent £33 million on their 150th anniversary building programme. Both great schools spend a lot of their time working with state schools and sharing their facilities.

Scholarships are becoming a little rarer and bursaries much more common. Some schools aim to offer 100% bursaries to all selected pupils in the not-too-distant future. King’s Rochester is an example. Christ’s Hospital at Horsham already offers more fully-funded places than any other independent school. This all amounts to nothing short of a revolution in independent schooling.  The sector is far more open, far more generous than ever before. That old joke about the ‘Public Schools being anything but that’ has been crumpled and thrown in the bin. The great result for the trusts is that all this makes them far more secure. That delivers very good value for all concerned.

The new drive for bursaries and scholarships is visionary and will ensure the future of our greatest schools for generations to come. Already, all that generosity is paying off in spades. Despite recessions, crashes and austerity, numbers are holding up very well indeed. Over 7% of pupils are educated independently.

Trust schools just need to keep plugging away at the message that parents are not asking a favour if they apply for a means-tested bursary: that is what the best schools want you to do. They seek the most interesting, most talented, most hardworking children: pupils who will build the school’s reputation and ensure their future success, whilst getting the utmost out of what the school has to offer.   And they are attracting them. This wonderful new bursary and scholarship movement is in everyone’s best interests – the schools’ every bit as much as the pupils’.

Peers Carter, School Transfer Company

Peers Carter founded The School Transfer Company over 30 years ago. STC gives experienced advice and help to Trusts and the independent education sector. 0207 409 5205 www.schooltransfer.co.uk