by Susan Hamlyn - Education consultant, The Good Schools Guide

Independent schools want to attract talented and able pupils. One way they do this is by offering fee assistance ie financial help to pay the school fees. This assistance is usually given as a scholarship and/or a bursary. These can be worth anything from 5% to 100% of the whole school fee.


Scholarships are usually awarded to incoming pupils who have particular talents. These can be in academics, sports, arts, IT or, occasionally, in things such as chess or even bagpipes! The scholarships are not usually means-tested (ie your income and other financial circumstances are not taken into consideration) and they are usually worth between 10% and 25% of the school’s fees, though this can vary. Scholarships normally last for the entire duration of a pupil’s time in the school but can carry some obligations eg to play in school matches or partake in school musical activities. They also bring a certain amount of kudos – a scholarship marks out a pupil as able or talented. Most recipients enjoy this but it can also carry the pressure of high expectations – both at home and at school. In general, the older, larger schools – usually those which were or still are boys only schools - have more funds to distribute in scholarship form.


Bursaries are increasingly important as schools now try hard to attract able pupils from families who could not afford the full school fee. The child has to prove his or her ability by sitting the same entrance exam as everyone else but the school knows that a place, if offered, could only be accepted if a bursary is offered. Some schools have a substantial amount of money available for bursaries each year. Others have little or none. Whether a bursary is offered – and how much it might be worth - depend on numerous factors eg the family income, assets, lifestyle, financial commitments, number of children etc. It also will depend on how many children in any given year also require and merit bursarial assistance. So, how a school distributes its bursary funds will vary from year to year.

If you apply for a bursary you must be prepared to make a full disclosure of your family circumstances. You will be visited at home, your financial circumstances will be examined and you must expect that any fee assistance you are awarded will be reassessed each year. For example, if your income goes up – or down – you may expect to be awarded less – or, perhaps, more – help.

Bursaries should not be seen as charity. A pupil on a bursary brings his or her talents and abilities to the school which otherwise would not be able to benefit from them. It is a partnership of mutual giving. As with scholarships, older and longer-established schools often have more money available for bursaries. However, many girls’ schools – notably those belonging to The Girls’ Day School Trust – have made great strides in building up their financial resources in order to offer bursarial help to able girls from less-well-off homes.

Other types of fee assistance

Some schools offer discounts to siblings. Some charitable organisations attached to particular professions eg clergy, fishmongers, licensed victuallers (the drinks trade) offer scholarships to children whose families work in the trade. There are other charitable trusts with funds available to people in particular difficult circumstances eg when a parent has died.


Independent schools face increasing political pressure to justify their privileged tax status. Many have partnerships with academies and other state schools. Their facilities are now made more available to the general public. Making subsidised places available to able children from families with moderate or low incomes is another way to deflect this pressure. However, bursarial assistance is seen by increasing numbers of schools as a moral obligation and not just a political expedient.

susan hamlyn

Susan Hamlyn has reviewed more than 150 schools for The Good Schools Guide. Formerly a head of department at a London independent school, she edited The Good Schools Guide for twelve years and is responsible for the creation of its team of education consultants. Susan is an experienced speaker and writer on all matters educational, and the country’s leading authority on Scholarships and Bursaries.

Watch Susan Hamlyn's ISS18 talk

Media type
Can fee assistance make independent education affordable?

Can fee assistance make independent education affordable?

Susan Hamlyn, Director of The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants, tackles the issues of affordability and value in the fee-paying school sector and how to access the considerable financial assistance that is available.

Your questions answered

League Tables & ‘Value Added’

Why do some independent schools absent themselves from league tables and what is "value added"? Many parents will be using…

Saving money on education

It doesn’t take a financial expert to tell you that independent schools burn a hole in any parent’s pocket; according…


The UK has the world’s most famous boarding schools, many of which are exhibiting at the Independent Schools Show. The…
GSG logo1

How to get help

The Good Schools Guide has the only Scholarships and Bursaries Service in the UK which works, completely independently, for parents. Our service:

  • provides general practical advice on the dos and don’ts of applying for fee assistance along with much general information
  • works with individual families to enable them to make the right choices over which schools to apply to and how and when to apply.

Meet us on stand 152

Find out more

  Saturday 24 April 2021 10:00-17:00
Sunday 25 April 2021 10:30-16:30

  Battersea Evolution, Battersea Park, London, SW8 4NW