Independent Schools Guide: A financial fillip for all concerned

Independent education is an undoubtedly expensive investment, but with all schools striving to be accessible to all, support is available for families in all circumstances and financial positions.

The annual GERS report examines Scotland's finances
The annual GERS report examines Scotland's finances

More than £51 million was provided by Scotland’s independent schools in fee assistance in 2018, according to the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), with 24.6 per cent of pupils receiving financial help – 3.3 per cent of them having as much as 100 per cent of the fees covered.

Fee support has been significantly improved over the last decade thanks to the Scottish charity regulator, OSCR, and although this charitable relief is under review by Holyrood, the sector is dedicated to continuing this support.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And with average annual fees of around £15,000 per pupil, starting the conversation with the school as early as possible is imperative.

Bursaries are available for parents who are unable to pay the full amount.

The sums involved range from 10 per cent right up to 100 per cent, and SCIS advises parents to apply a year before they expect their child to be enrolled at the school.

Applications are carried out in complete confidence, and staff, including teachers and house parents, are unaware of the financial situation of any student.

At Strathallan School, in Forgandenny, Perthshire, more than £1.5m is awarded in fee assistance annually.

Headmaster Mark Lauder explains: “There are cases where there has been a parental bereavement and the other parent has become ill, for example, so boarding might be the only way to provide stability for the child.

“It is not just about being ambitious for your child, the schools are providing some serious help for children who really need it.

“If a parent – in any financial situation – is worried about the future and they can afford the fees for the next few years but not afterwards, have that conversation with the bursar as well because we are likely to be able to increase the bursary.”

Some schools offer scholarships, which are fee discounts awarded for outstanding skills academically or in terms of a particular extra-curricular activity such as music.

They are irrespective of income and are usually much smaller than a bursary.

Lauder adds: “The parents will have invested in getting their child to scholarship level, paying for the equipment and travel among other things, and now the school will benefit from that skill.

“Therefore the scholarship is a discount of fees in recognition of that commitment and talent.”

Staff at the school will also advise on planning for extra costs such as school trips and uniforms.

However, regardless of income, there are plenty of options available to enable any child to find a place within Scotland’s independent sector.