Education Eye: Scholarships at independent schools

Queries that regularly come my way at this time of year are those surrounding the perceived mystery of scholarships at independent schools.

Catherine Stoker

What are they, what’s the difference and how do parents go about securing one?

Nearly all independent schools offer financial assistance of some kind.

Firstly, let’s talk about scholarships. These tend to be awarded on merit in sport, art, academics, music or all-round ability.

In most cases, they’re not linked to parents’ financial need. Some can even be honorary accolades, with no financial benefit at all.

Exhibitions, or mini-scholarships, can also allow for financial assistance with extra-curricular music or drama lessons.

Both are awarded on the basis of performance in written and sometimes practical tests, depending on the area in which they’re awarded. There’ll almost certainly be an interview, too. Scholarship testing takes place on set dates and these can usually be found on the school’s website, alongside details and deadlines for applications.

Allowing at least a two-year lead-time for applications is the norm.

Feeder preps work closely with senior schools so know the process inside out. Taking advice from your current head on the likelihood of your child gaining a scholarship is crucial. They’ll also advise on process and help with the application. A strong reference will be important, as well as help with preparing for interviews and tests.

Scholarships are often reviewed annually. Be aware there will be conditions attached, such as working hard and making a positive ongoing contribution to the school community in the area in which they’ve been awarded.

Sometimes an award can be made to internal candidates who’ve made a strong contribution in a particular area, since joining the school. A good example could be applying for a sixth form scholarship if your child has been exceptional during their time at the school to date. Some schools may consider awarding a scholarship to encourage retention of an able student, who may be in two minds about moving school for sixth form. If this describes your child, it’s always worth asking. In a similar way, some scholarships require repayment if your child leaves part-way through their school career, such as at sixth form.

Next week, some details about bursaries.