Dear madam: letters to the editor 18/3/20

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, a Tes reader reflects on private schools' determination to widen access

Tes Reporter

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, a Tes reader reflects on private schools' determination to widen access

Independent school bursaries change pupils’ lives

The article about “Independent schools hoarding millions” is a grossly unfair representation of the independent school sector’s attempts to broaden access.

Any surplus that an independent school charity generates is there for reinvestment in the charity and the Charity Commission would, quite rightly, have it no other way. I have no knowledge of the accounts of the four schools mentioned in the article, but unless schools generate a surplus, facilities cannot be maintained. Chigwell School spent a significant sum on the replacement of seven roofs recently, including on the original 1629 school building, which is listed. The work was complicated and had to be carried out in line with the requirements of the conservation authorities. No surplus would have meant no new roofs and the rain would have poured in.

More importantly, it would be wrong to imply that many independent schools are not working hard to fund bursaries, from fee income, donations or both. Meanwhile, others focus resources on offering free teaching and other support to partner schools or sponsoring academies. Again, many schools provide bursaries as well as support for local schools.  

Last year, the total spent by Chigwell School on bursaries amounted to nearly £800,000 – or £5.5 million over the seven-year period for which these pupils will be with us. We are certainly not complacent, and more young people than ever before have 100 per cent bursaries at Chigwell and bursary holders thrive here. These are bright, purposeful young people, many of whom would qualify for free school meals, and they are able to attend only because they have been awarded bursaries. Some require considerable pastoral support because of difficult home circumstances and some of their homes on the estates of East London are far from luxurious – I know because I visit shortlisted bursary applicants myself. But we believe in bursaries and the difference they make to the lives of the recipients; it is integral to what we do.

Of course, we would like to have the funds to provide even more bursaries and I imagine every independent school head would say the same. Far from being an afterthought, bursaries are valued by both recipients and the schools that provide them. We work hard to promote bursaries ourselves, and in conjunction with other schools, and we do our very best to ensure that bursary holders thrive when they are with us. Bursaries are not the crumbs from the independent school table; indeed, there is a healthy appetite for bursaries and long may that continue.

Michael Punt
Headmaster, Chigwell School, Essex

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