Independent schools are replacing scholarships with means-tested bursaries faster than ever, according to a new report.
Around #163;200 million was handed out in support by fee-charging schools last year, or #163;104 million excluding those institutions with large endowment funds.
It is the second year running that more is being spent on bursaries to help poorer pupils than on scholarships to help the most able. It suggests that schools are responding to warnings that they need to widen access to keep their charitable status.
The Benchmarking Financial Performance In Independent Schools 2009 report by accountant Horwath Clark Whitehill said: "In 2007, for the first time, bursary levels exceeded scholarships and, in 2008, the speed of this switch seems to be increasing."
In 1997, only around 47 per cent of awards were bursaries, but this figure has now increased to just over 54 per cent. However, the report's authors added that the overall amount of money used to support pupils financially had not changed substantially.
"Total concessions are not increasing and, in the current economic climate, schools are unlikely to be able to afford much more," they said. "Switching from scholarships to bursaries is one thing, asking hard-pressed parents for extra money to pay for bursaries for other pupils is quite another."
But Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools' Association, said that schools are able to offer support to pupils through more effective, "professionalised" fundraising.
"It is being more specifically targeted," she said. "If you give a persuasive story, such as asking to donate to fund a free place, you are much more likely to get a response."