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Independent schools should offer 'a lot more' bursaries to poorer pupils, says leading head

Incoming president of Girls’ Schools Association says families may be reluctant to apply for fully-funded bursaries due to concern that children may feel out of their depth

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Incoming president of Girls’ Schools Association says families may be reluctant to apply for fully-funded bursaries due to concern that children may feel out of their depth

Independent schools want to offer more bursaries for the most disadvantaged pupils – but often parents of these children do not even consider them as an option, a leading headteacher has said.

Gwen Byrom, incoming president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), wants to see more independent schools offering a higher number of bursaries, covering up to 100 per cent of fees.

But Ms Byrom, head of Loughborough High School, said parents without an independent school background can be reluctant to apply for full bursaries.

Speaking to the media today, she said: “It’s very hard for anyone to take a leap into the unknown. Particularly if you feel that it’s a situation where you are going to feel out of your depth.

“And parents wouldn’t want to put their children in an uncomfortable position. They wouldn’t want their children to feel out of their depth.

“So that is one of the barriers that if we are going to offer more 100 per cent bursaries – and get strong uptake on them – that is one of the things we have to get past.”

Offering more bursaries

At Loughborough High School – which costs £11,000 a year – 40 pupils out of 560 pupils are on bursaries, more than 7 per cent. A number of them are on 100 per cent bursaries.

But Ms Byrom, who becomes GSA president in January, said: "I would like to see the sector offering a lot more 100 per cent bursaries. I think we all would. I don't know a head who wouldn't say they wanted to see more 100 per cent bursaries offered by independent schools."

However, she said there were conditions to this. For example, some private schools may not have the financial means to do so.

She added: "The other caveat I would add is that just because a school offers 100 per cent bursaries, it doesn't necessarily mean that families will be falling over themselves to apply for them."

Ms Byrom, who was educated at a comprehensive school, added that there were "social and psychological hurdles" in getting families that would be eligible for such support to apply.

She said: “It is not just about saying ‘hey, we have got lots of bursaries come and see us’. That is not enough. We need to understand what it is that is stopping people.”

“Sometimes parents worry that their child might be identified as being in receipt of financial support. Whereas actually, we work very hard as schools to make sure that those students are not identified.

“We can go a long way towards reassuring parents but you can only reassure parents when you are actually talking to them and you have got them through the door. And part of the barrier is getting them through the door in the first place.”

Sponsor an academy

A Department for Education green paper, published in September last year, suggested that schools with the capacity and capability should sponsor an academy or set up a new free school.

The response to the consultation has yet to be published – but when asked whether the government is still putting pressure on, Ms Byrom said: “I think the appetite is still there to do more. 

"And I think independent schools have not backed away from that. We would like to do more but we would like to do it in partnership."

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