Richer, larger and more prestigious independent schools devote a smaller portion of their income to bursaries than their smaller and less high-attaining counterparts, according to new research commissioned by the Sutton Trust and published today (Monday July 26th).

The study, by Staffordshire University’s Institute for Education Policy Research, analysed the websites and financial accounts of 348 schools, accounting for almost seven in ten 16-18 year olds in the independent sector.  It finds that while schools are devoting 7.8% of their total school income to bursaries and scholarships – an increase on levels in 2000 (see notes) – there is considerable and surprising variation between institutions.

Earlier this month, the Charity Commission intervened for the first time to make two independent schools increase the money set aside for bursaries.  The report asks, “Why can some schools afford more than others?”, and suggests Government intervention may be necessary to continue to press schools to improve social mobility.

In particular the report finds that:

• More than a quarter of schools offer less than 5% of their total income in fee remissions (scholarships and bursaries), while another quarter offer more than 10%.

• More prestigious schools tend to devote a lower proportion of their income to fee remissions: a school ranked 1-70 in The Times league table, for example, spends 4.3% of its income on financial aid; one ranked 211-280 devotes 7.2%.

• Schools with higher incomes spend a lower proportion on bursaries: schools which devote 1-2% of their total income to bursaries have an average income of £10.4m; schools which devote 6-8% to bursaries have an average income of £8.2m.

• Except for very small schools (which offer bursaries below 1% of income) the rate of bursary provision tends to decline with increasing school size and income.

• The report questions the bursary policies of some leading independent faith schools. The proportion of fee remissions spent by these schools on bursaries to help low income families attend the school is nearly 10% below the average. This ‘sits uneasily’ with their mission statements of commitment to public welfare.

• Half of all fee remissions are being directed to scholarships, which are largely non-means tested and often go to pupils whose families can afford to pay fees.

• Only half of independent schools disclose in their annual accounts the proportion of income set aside for bursaries and most do not publish on their websites the criteria for awarding bursaries. Instead families are referred to the school for further information which could disadvantage families from less articulate homes. The report calls on umbrella bodies to take a lead in encouraging good practice. “Schools that do not reveal their level of bursary provision make it appear that they have something to hide.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, commented:

“The fact that the fee-paying sector is devoting a greater share of its income to fee remissions – and bursaries in particular – is to be welcomed.  However, half of the fee remissions still go to scholarships which are not means-tested.

Progress is also unevenly spread throughout the sector.  It is concerning, for example, that the most prestigious private schools – which offer their pupils exceptional life chances – appear, on average, to be doing less to widen access than their lower-attaining counterparts. While partnership and community work are important components of public benefit, bursary provision is perhaps the most effective way independent schools can boost social mobility.”

 Professor Peter Davies, who led the research, said:

“Independent schools would improve their case for creating public benefit if they were more open about the criteria they use for awarding bursaries – following the example of the few who currently publish these criteria on their web sites.

The Charity Commission has an important role to play in encouraging independent schools to live up to their claims for providing public benefit. The huge difference in independent schools’ practices on scholarships and bursaries shows there is still plenty of work to be done.”

Summary tables

Table 1:  Proportion of total and net fee income spent on fee remissions and bursaries

.Percent of total incomePercent of net income
Total fee remissions7.8%8.8%

Table 2: Relationship between league table ranking, fees, and fee remissions

Rank inThe Timesleague tableAverage termly fee for Year 7 day pupilsAverage fee remissions as a percentage of total school incomeAverage bursaries as a percentage of fee remissions

 Table 3: Relationship between bursary provision, size and school income

Bursaries as a percentage of total school incomePercentage of SchoolsAverage size of school (pupil number)Average total school income (£)

Notes to editors

The figure of 7.8% of income spent on fee remissions includes all school income – from fees and investments and other sources.  Just taking into account net fee income, the equivalent figure is 8.8%.  In 2000 the total net fee income spent on fee remissions reported by the Independent Schools Council was 6.6%, suggesting an increase over ten years of two percentage points.

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