Case study: King Edward's day school, Birmingham

21st October 2005 at 01:00
We strongly believe in open access. We want to support bright pupils from low-income families and give them opportunities they would not otherwise have. For instance, this summer we had a real success story when two Muslim boys, who were both on full bursaries for their seven years here, won places at Oxbridge to study medicine. One is a taxi driver's son, the other is the son of a market trader and is profoundly deaf. Neither of their families would have been able to afford to send the boys to King Edward's.

We could see that they were very talented, but it's a two-way relationship: it's not just about giving pupils money to come here; they have to respond to the chances they've been given. Both these boys grasped their opportunity and made the most of it.

More than 100 of our pupils are on bursaries. That accounts for around 15 per cent of the total number of students. The bursaries are means-tested and scaled according to need on incomes under pound;38,000. Many of our bursary-holders get full remission on the pound;7,500 fees - and the average bursary is probably around pound;6,500 a year. We also offer some small scholarships - of around an eighth of the fees - as a reward for merit.

That all seems straightforward, but there are a lot of subtleties to be aware of. The expense of independent education has risen substantially over the past five years, but this has nothing to do with profligacy on the part of a school like ours; it's a reflection of rising costs from teachers'

salaries and pensions, for example. Inevitably, however, it means fees have had to rise, too. So although a parent might be earning pound;45,000 or Pounds 55,000 a year, which sounds like a lot of money, when you take the cost of fees for perhaps two children out of taxed income it can become extremely difficult for them to afford. There's a whole swath of families just below our means test who make considerable sacrifices to send their children here. This is not a school exclusively for the sons of wealthy surgeons or business people; we're talking about teachers' and lecturers'

families, and it can be a real struggle. We do what we can to make things easier.

We spend pound;750,000 a year on bursaries. A large share of this comes from the King Edward's foundation, which has around pound;80 million of assets, and which shares the returns among seven schools, of which we are one.

In effect, we have around pound;15 million invested on our behalf at a return of 4 per cent a year. On top of this we receive support from businesses such as HSBC and local firms, individual benefactors and charitable trusts. We do our best to make sure we use this income in the most effective way, for individuals and for the school. I believe that we offer parents value for money, not only in terms of our exam results, which are among the best in the country, but also in terms of the breadth and depth of the extra-curricular activities on offer. And I have no doubt that we justify our charitable status, because we make this education available to more than 100 children from lower-income families. Having a thriving bursary system is not just about giving one or two pupils success. It's about creating a healthy, socially mixed, multicultural school.

Roger Dancey, chief master, King Edward's day school for boys, Birmingham

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