Planning for the financial side of a child’s education is undoubtedly a daunting task, however, Scotland’s independent schools are committed to being accessible to all and offer support to all families.
The sector provides more than £54.5 million in fee assistance annually, according to the Scottish Council for Independent School (SCIS), with 24.5 per cent of pupils in Scotland’s select schools receiving some form of financial help.
“We are committed to supporting young people to come here who wouldn’t normally be able to afford it,” says Lise Hudson, rector at the High School of Dundee, which froze its fees over the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our bursary fund is very important to us but, equally, we need to be prudent for the vast number of parents making significant sacrifices to be able to afford fees.
“So, there is a greater responsibility on us to make the learning environment absolutely exceptional, and for us to deliver a great service.”
The co-educational day school has therefore increased its fees as minimally as possible and, despite current financial challenges, the school roll has remained strong.
Also keeping fees to a minimum is Wellington School in Ayr, which announced just a 3 per cent increase in May.
“We were very mindful of the fact that people are stretched at the moment, so our objective was to help all families by keeping fees at the lowest level while breaking even,” maintains headmaster Simon Johnson.
Once a child is offered a place at Wellington, families will receive a fee pack and the school’s finance manager can provide information on assistance at any time.
Some schools offer scholarships, which are provided upon recognition of an achievement or excellence in a particular area.
They do not provide a remission of fees, but can be in the form of a voucher, as done at St Leonards School in St Andrews, which has one of the most prestigious school golf programmes in the UK.
They are offered to pupils in Year 7 upwards for many areas of excellence, including academic, art, drama and golf.
“The bottom line is that we are a really accessible school,” expresses its head, Simon Brian. “That means we want as many young people as possible to benefit from the St Leonards education.
“We ensure our day fee is as competitive as possible but recognising that we are in a climate of financial difficulty, so we aim to do our best to keep our fees at the absolute models that our parents can afford.”
A more common form of support is a means-tested bursary, which all independent schools in Scotland offer.
More than 3 per cent of senior pupils across the sector have up to 100 per cent of fees paid for through a bursary.
The all-girls St George’s School in Edinburgh is committed to its bursary programme, says its newly-appointed head Carol Chandler-Thompson.
“I went to an independent school on a bursary myself, so I know how transformational that can be for families”, she relays. “We will always seek to make them available so that anyone can access the education.
“We will constantly review the fee level, so that we are delivering as much value as we can, for example, by providing sibling discounts for families.”
For families with three or more sisters attending St George’s at the same time, the third and subsequent sibling can receive a discount in tuition fees.
George Watson’s College, also in the Capital, has its Financial Assistance for Parents Scheme in place, which offers awards of up to 75 per cent for fees to primary pupils, depending on household income.
Foundation Places are also available at the college and are intended to provide life-changing opportunities to families with little or zero experience of independent schooling. These awards are based on the child having a talent that is unlikely to be developed elsewhere.
George Watson’s principal Melvyn Roffe says: “Around 75 per cent of our places available in S1 are now financially-supported places.
“More importantly, for most pupils and their families, we have an awareness of the importance of not putting in costs that we don’t need to put in.
“We are doing a piece of work with our wider access manager to look at how we can moderate the costs of the school place – not just fees but other aspects of being here.”
Morrison’s Academy in Crieff, Perthshire, is also exploring ways to make attending the school more affordable.
Its rector Andrew J McGarva states: “Our support really is through our bursary programme and we are trying to put together a programme to encourage people to donate more to our bursaries. We are looking at launching a giving programme at some point later in the academic year.”
He goes on to note that, should a family’s financial situation change at any stage of their child’s education, they should reach out to the school: “They can still apply for a bursary".
“One of my aims is to make sure we are giving a lot more help for children in local schools whose parents couldn’t afford for them to come here because the school is just wonderful.”
As well as the school fees, there are additional costs parents should consider.
“Every school has information on their website but it is thinking about what it looks like in practice,” suggests Mark Becher, head at The Compass School in Haddington.
“The tuition fees are obvious, but then there may be extra charges. It is quite good to maybe ask for a sense of what an annual bill might look like for a certain point of entry.”
He adds: “Parents shouldn’t worry about asking that at all. Assistance is very confidential and nobody knows who receives support and who doesn’t. We are very keen that the fees are not restrictive and that they are open to as many children as possible.”