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Unlocking independent education scholarships and bursaries

By 01/03/2022 No Comments
by Tamara Pearson
Assistant Head, Head of the Junior School Our Lady of Sion, Worthing

Boaters? ‘Hogwarts’ campus? ‘Mallory Towers’ traditions? Maybe. Maybe not. My experience was decidedly different.

Growing up in South East London in the 80s, with a bird’s eye view of The Oval cricket ground, my primary state school was an eclectic and creative start to life. My classes were always large and busy; teacher time was generally spent with children who required additional help. Art projects for the Notting Hill carnival and a chance to perform at the National Theatre were certainly highlights.

However, after discovering my grandma’s Irish harp in her attic, music quickly became an all-consuming passion. Lessons on the edge of Battersea Park were a complete joy. I felt lucky to have found my ‘thing’ and was relishing the chance to play and perform. I played alongside professionals, appeared on television, performed at weddings and regularly played at local care homes. A solo recital in front of the Head of Music at a large public boarding school resulted in a top scholarship and a huge change in my education.

As a scholar, my harp was housed in the Headmaster’s House, where I practiced for hours each day. I sang in the choirs, performing at St George’s Chapel (Windsor), Winchester Cathedral and sang great choral works such as Haydn’s Creation. Orchestral opportunities and coaching in composition were hugely inspiring and further developed my musicianship. As a solo performer, I played at the opening of new buildings in partner schools, governor lunches and formal events – including large charity occasions. As the only harpist at the school (at the time), I was very happy to be literally wheeled out for any occasion.

My scholarship opened up a world of opportunities which far exceeded musical enrichment. Tutorials, workshops, enrichment days, visits and outings, productions, concerts, a huge array of sporting activities and life beyond the classroom. The experience of an independent education was life-changing. To this day, I carry the lasting legacy of my education. It was not just what I learned, but how I learned – the memories and how I was made to feel.

I am forever grateful to have been passed the key which unlocked this opportunity for me. Consequently, I am passionate about ensuring there are similar opportunities available to other families. To be truly known and nurtured by inspirational and passionate teachers, in an environment of ambitious academic discovery, where a joy of learning is fostered is what our children deserve.

Most independent schools offer scholarships for talented pupils. Whilst very competitive, scholarships may offer more in terms of prestige, rather than financial awards. Means-tested bursaries may also be available for families who need financial assistance with fees.

Independent school fees vary considerably and it is important to consider the full picture; additional charges, uniform costs and the full cost of an education through to senior school.

Scholarships can now take many forms. There are traditional academic, music, sport, art and drama awards, as well as more holistic and alternative offerings. Financial awards can vary, as can the complete package of fees.

Scholarships are rarely worth more than around 10% of fees these days. However, scholars may benefit from additional features, such as further coaching, trips/tours, mentoring and enrichment.

Scholarships at prep school level (primary phase) are less common. There tend to be standard entry points for these – usually being at the age of seven. Some prep schools offer ‘exhibitions’ which is the name given for a minor scholarship.

Scholarships may also be available for internal candidates. Again, these are usually made available at key intake points throughout the school at set times in the year.

Bursaries provide financial support for families with talented children who would otherwise not be able to afford full fees. These range in value from school to school – they can also cover additional expenses such as uniform and trips. Whilst based on a child’s ability or talents, bursaries are also means tested, which means that each year the family’s financial standing is inspected by the school bursar. The threshold for support can differ from school to school and it is important to remember that it may not be the only factor of consideration (schools may also look at the number of dependents, other assets and outgoings such as holidays).

It is important to note that schools can award scholarships with bursaries; providing the prestige of a scholarship, with the financial support of a bursary.

Whilst we all see the best in our children, it is imperative to dig deep and be realistic about whether they are ready to apply for a scholarship. It is also wise to carefully consider the school. It can be tempting to be lured by the largest ‘discount’, rather than looking at full costs and even if the school is a perfect fit for your child.

Some tips to consider:
• Research schools and their scholarship and bursary options.
• Compare full and true costs (including any wraparound, meals, uniform and additional expenses such as music lessons/extra-curricular opportunities).
• Check the timing of scholarships and be organised with deadlines.
• Be honest on all application paperwork – about abilities and finances.
• Do not push or pressure your child.
• Keep a sense of proportion and trust that you will find the right school for your child.

Tamara Pearson is Assistant Head, Head of the Junior School at Our Lady of Sion School in Worthing. She is also mother to an eight year old who attends Sion and she is passionate about helping the Juniors embrace every enrichment opportunity available.

Our Lady of Sion Junior School welcomes children from Early Years to Year 6 when children transition to the Senior School. Alongside its Bursaries and Senior School Scholarships, the school has recently launched a new Scholarship for children in Years 1 and 2.

Visit www.sionschool.org.uk