Independent Schools Guide: Fees support is at hand

Choosing the right school for a child is the most important decision any parent or guardian will make when it comes to developing their son or daughter’s character and setting them on the right path for a successful future.

Fees support is at hand

While there are many factors that influence which institution that will be, for example, entrance exams to assess how the school can best support the individual or the curriculum on offer, fees are a vital consideration.

For many, the financial issue is daunting, but confidence can be placed in the wealth of fee assistance and advice that is available – and an independent education is a far more affordable and worthwhile investment than they might anticipate.

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As Simon Brian, the newly-appointed headteacher at St Leonards School in St Andrews, says: “Independent education is a huge decision for parents, and a huge commitment, but it needs to be viewed as the investment that it really is.

“An independent education is an investment in a child’s development, in their career, in their future.

“At St Leonards, we offer incredible value for money on an all-inclusive IB [International Baccalaureate] education – indeed, I would go as far as to say there is no better value IB education in the UK.”

He adds: “It is incredibly important to us that we do all we can to reach out beyond the walls to the wider community, and provide a first-class education for as many young people as possible.”

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools’ institutions provide at least £54.8 million in fee assistance each year, with 26 per cent of the 28,724 pupils educated by the sector receiving some form of financial support.

And some 3.5 per cent of senior school pupils receive 100 per cent fee assistance.

The best way to apply for financial support is to contact the school as soon as possible and inform the bursar, who will be able to provide advice as to what help is available.

At Clifton Hall School in Newbridge, Edinburgh, fees also include all food and drink, as well as all textbook resources in the junior school.

Headmaster Rod Grant says: “For Clifton Hall the fees are less than the senior school in the junior school and considerably less in the nursery.

“In the senior years we are very unusual in that it also includes examination fees.

“What we are trying to do is create a fee that is as inclusive as we can make it, so people aren’t faced with an unexpected bill.”

He adds: “Generally speaking, whatever the school and the fee, parents can anticipate around a3 per cent on average increase per year. The reason for that increase for a non-profit organisation is because 70 per cent of our income is used on staff salaries and they tend to increase around about2 per cent a year, and the employer contributions to pensions is continually going up.”

Grant maintains that school fees are an investment well spent, as being an all-through school dedicated to smaller classes, there is less disruption to an individual’s learning and it provides an ability to closely nurture their talents.

He adds: “I can’t tell you the number of children who have come to me in the past five or six years who have had a similar experience to a girl who was previously miserable at another school.

“She came to me at the end of the year and said, ‘I came here broken and now I am fully repaired’.”

At St George’s School in Edinburgh, the fees also include books and learning materials as well as school trips for pupils in the junior school.

Head teacher Alex Hems says: “It is only clubs that are delivered by very specialist external coaches – for example judo, which is taught by Edinburgh Judo Club, and some of them are Olympians – that require additional payments. Most of our clubs are provided totally free.

“I would encourage families to make contact early and talk about what support is available. I think often people don’t know the extent of support that is available.

“If they are considering an application in a couple of years then get in touch and find out how that process works.

“There are all sorts of things our finance team can do to de-mystify the process and schools are very keen to be as open as possible.”

Each school provides bursaries, which are designed to ensure the sector remains accessible to all. This can cover up to 100 per cent of the tuition fees.

At George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, the school operates a foundation places scheme, which is funded by a mixture of fee income, the George Watson’s Family Foundation and donations made to the school through George Watson’s Endowment Trust.

These places are intended to provide life-changing opportunities for young people from families with little or no previous experience of independent education.

Although they are not scholarships, these foundation places are given to those who have a particular talent which might not otherwise be developed at a local authority-run school.

Principal Melvyn Roffe says: “[An independent education] is a significant financial consideration. At Watson’s we are very keen to make education as affordable as possible and it is not just for one year but potentially 13.

“There is always the conversation about extras, and we are very keen that we don’t have large numbers of extras and parents know what they are taking on. I think that is very important. It is significant and it is important people understand that, but also to look at it from the point of view of what the benefit is to their children and indeed their families in being part of a community like George Watson’s College.

“We aim to make sure that as far as possible, the school population comes from a wide range of backgrounds across the city.”

Kilgraston School, at Bridge of Allan in Perthshire, offers varied methods of payments to ensure fees are as affordable as possible.

Headmistress Dorothy MacGinty says: “[Families] need to consider the long term especially if they have two or three children, so it is looking at the financial stability over a long time.

“We try to keep the cost of things down. If they want their children to be going on trips for things like classics, overseas, or skiing, they need to factor all of that in. We try to make as much of that into the fees to avoid a big bill at the end of the term.

“We have various schemes where the parents can pay monthly, or, if they want to, they can pay two or three years in advance and they get a discount for that. We reassure parents that we try not to put the fees up by a lot so they can plan ahead and they don’t get a big bill that they may not have anticipated.”

Over the last 18 months, some schools have put measures in place to support families through the coronavirus pandemic.

Traditionally between 8 and 19 per cent of the High School of Dundee’s turnover has been reinvested into its bursaries, though as a result of Covid-19 that has increased to17 per cent. School fees have also been frozen for three years.

The school has also encouraged donations to the school’s bursary fund.

Head teacher Lise Hudson maintains: “It is an invisible support. Only myself, the deputy rector, bursar and board committee know who are awarded bursaries.

“The staff are not aware of who receives one and who does not, likewise neither do the pupils unless the parents choose to tell them.

“That is important because it creates a really eclectic and diverse community and I think that is why our pupils are very down toearth and able to be friends with people from all different experiences of life.”

And for those who are unsure about making sacrifices to pay for an independent education, Hudson advises: “When I speak to our parents of our Form 6, when their child leaves school, I can honestly say that to an individual, they tell me it is the best money they have ever spent.

“You only get one shot in making sure your child is in an environment where they can find the thing that makes them tick and be supported to reach their potential.

“It is a well-worn thing that schools talk about reaching their potential but for me it is about reaching their personal best.

“You don’t get a chance to go back and do it again, so if you are in a position to do it then I think it is a really important investment.”

Types of financial assistance

Bursaries are awarded to families who otherwise would not be able to afford to send their child to an independent school. They are means tested and can be up to 100 per cent of the cost of the tuition fees.

According to the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, 3.6 per cent of school pupils receive a free place at an independent school annually.

Bursaries have overtaken scholarships in recent years as, being means tested, they ensure the schools remain accessible to all.

However, some still offer scholarships for those who excel in a range of subjects including those that are academic, or sports, music and arts.

Through a scholarship, there may be a 10 per cent to 50 per cent reduction in fees. Families who apply for a scholarship can still apply for fee assistance.

Essentially, the school is repaying the costs of tuition, equipment and travel that were required to develop the talent to an exceptional level.

Grants are also available through various educational charities and organisations. To find out more about what is available visit the Educational Grants Advice Service’s website at:

This article first appeared in the September 2021 edition of The Scotsman’s Independent Schools Guide. A digital version can be found here.