A PRIVATE school which promised to widen access to poorer families by offering 105 per cent bursaries has been accused of charging those who apply £50 per child.
Loretto School in East Lothian advertised the bursaries after being threatened with losing its charitable status.
Despite targeting the poorest families, the school has been asking for a £50 “registration fee” to be paid – even though it warns there will be more applications than there is funding available.
Last night Loretto said those applying for the 105 per cent bursary would not be charged, despite an earlier e-mail sent from the school’s registrar to a parent, which has been seen by The Scotsman, suggesting otherwise.
Loretto, which charges more than £19,000 a year for senior day pupils and up to £28,590 for boarders, was said to have “insufficient measures” in place to widen access following an investigation by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) last year.
The regulator found that, in 2012-13, a total of 91 pupils – 14.7 per cent of the school roll – received means-tested support. The value of the support was £756,210, equivalent to 6 per cent of the school’s income. However, the majority of the remissions were “low value”, the regulator said.
In response, Loretto, the alma mater of former chancellor Alistair Darling and broadcaster Andrew Marr, announced means-tested bursaries worth 105 per cent of school fees.
The school said the bursaries were intended to cover the cost of fees, but also additional expenses such as uniform and extra-curricular activities. It said the number of bursaries would only be known once it had assessed applications later in the year.
But one parent who considered applying to the school said its failure to mention the registration fee had been “misleading” and would leave many “priced out of the market”.
“The £50 non-refundable, no-guarantee fee seems very high for low-income families and gives false hope for this prestigious opportunity,” the parent said. “The school will make money from parents wishing to try and better their child’s education.
“Education is an important part of life. Having myself been fortunate to attend university and achieve an honours degree, this is what I would hope for my own children and would jump at the chance of Loretto. I would be very interested to see how many parents paid the registration fee in comparison to how many actually are accepted.”
Labour’s education spokeswoman, Kezia Dugdale, said the decision to levy the fee was a “PR disaster”. She said: “I’m speechless at this sort of practice from Loretto. I think that this shows that the school is being very badly advised. If nothing else, it just seems a little bit grubby. Loretto is a good school. It really doesn’t need to take this approach to ensuring it is fully integrated into the community.”
Yesterday, the school initially said the £50 fee could be waived in “exceptional circumstances”. However, it later said no applicant for the 105 per cent bursary would be charged.
Jonathan Hewat, director of external affairs at Loretto, said: “If it’s felt they qualify for the 105 per cent bursary, then they are not asked to pay £50.”
About one in 20 children in Scotland is educated at a private school, although the Edinburgh figure is closer to one in four.
In October, the charity regulator said Loretto had 18 months to comply with its tests or risk losing its charitable status, which allows tax breaks and rates relief.