How to find the perfect school scholarship for your child?

The concept of school scholarships is something peculiar to the Independent school system and since less than seven percent of children in the UK attend private schools, only a few students every year out of that small group are ever awarded ‘scholarship places’.

Accordingly, securing a place for their child in a school by achieving a scholarship place is not, therefore, something that many parents would have ever considered, let alone planned for.

As there are specific differences between the state and private school systems, along with differences as to the ages that students transfer from junior to senior schools within each system, we’ve set out below an overview of how scholarships work.

But first, a very brief overview of the two schooling systems.

UK Government Maintained school place allocation

Over ninety-three percent of children are educated within the Maintained (state) school system.

For those parents who will be sending their child to a UK secondary school, the main admission criteria used by those schools to determine whether to offer their child a place at their first-choice secondary school is one of location; specifically, how far away from the school do they live?

Whilst some schools, be they Grammar, Free, Maintained, Academy, Foundation, Comprehensive, Faith, Voluntary Aided, etc may have other selection conditions for a few of their available spaces, the vast majority of state school places will be allocated purely upon their home’s distance from the school.

The specific details as to how this distance is to be calculated will be available either direct from each school or their local council authority.

Out of those school types listed above it is only Grammar Schools who have an entrance test for all of their students. These 160 or so maintained schools out of the total of around 3,000 schools require children to sit exams at age 11 and only those who pass the relevant papers are offered a place.

It therefore follows that for most parents during March in their child’s final Key Stage One year (11 years old) they will have received a letter and discovered which school their child will be attending and unless they can successfully lodge an appeal, that is the one their child will have to attend.

It may come as a surprise to you if that’s the system you’re used to, therefore, that Independent Schools operate a much more flexible approach to allocating school places.

Independent School Place Allocation

Independent schools or private schools are not funded by the UK Government but through the fees paid each term by parents and from reserves built up from previous donations.

Because they do not receive direct funding they are allowed to apply their own range of selection criteria for admitting students to their schools.

This enables each school to implement its own admissions criteria and, unlike a maintained school, if they feel it appropriate they can vary their criteria on a year-by-year basis subject to the applications they receive.

Age of entry to a senior independent school

For historical reasons, whilst many independent senior take in their students at age 13+ there are some schools who accept children from 11+.

Broadly speaking, most boys’ only schools admit at 13+, with some co-ed schools and most girls’ only schools admitting from 11+.

Whilst at their Junior School or Prepatory School (prep school) children would have been studying what is known as ‘Common Entrance’ (CE), which is the name for the set of examinations taken by boys and girls prior to entrance to senior independent schools at 11+ or 13+.

The syllabus for each subject has been developed by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) and forms the basis of the course of study children would follow whilst at their private Junior School or Prep School.

Depending upon which senior school their parents are planning on sending their child to will therefore dictate whether their child sits their entrance exams at one of these two ages.

Some independent schools set their own entrance exams and therefore if you wished to send your child to one of those schools it’s important that both they and their current school are aware of any syllabus or subject differences that may require additional study or exam preparation.

Their CE results will be reviewed by their proposed senior school, along with a detailed report on the child from their school’s Headteacher, in order to determine whether to offer them a place at that school.

Not all independent schools will select entrants based upon results but as a minimum, most will review their prospective student’s Common Entrance examination results to gain a better understanding as to that particular child’s ability and how they might fit with the schools study programme.

Many senior schools do, however, have a selection criteria and these are usually the ones who have significantly more applications than places available and they will therefore set a higher minimum pass mark percentage for Common Entrance.

Many will also require children to sit a pre-test a few years prior to their Common Entrance exams, with only those putting up a good show in those tests being able to go forwards to sit Common Entrance for that school when at age 11 or 13.

For students not currently at an independent junior school or prep school it is possible for them to study and sit Common Entrance papers in the full range of the syllabus, subject to locating a suitable exam centre.

This means children at a maintained school or being home-educated can take the full range of Common Entrance exams.

Common Academic Scholarship at 13+

In addition to the standard Common Entrance exam papers it is possible for students to sit Scholarship papers in their strongest subjects.

These school scholarship papers are designed to stretch the candidate’s ability and often very few of the students who take the exams will achieve the highest marks.

For those students who do achieve the required pass mark in their scholarship papers there are two main benefits:

  1. They will have shown that they are already at a high standard as they enter the school and may well have a title or award conferred on them.
  2. They may also be entitled to a reduction on the termly fees charged for their attendance.

Whilst securing a scholarship place used to provide a large fee reduction, in recent years this has been reduced to around 5% – 15% of the annual fees.

It is possible, however, for parents to apply for a bursary to augment any fee reduction due to the scholarship, so as to make the annual fees more affordable and in some instances full fee remission is possible.

Other Scholarship Awards

In addition to Common Entrance Scholarships most Senior Schools have scholarship places available for well-qualified applicants in the following categories.

  • Drama
  • Various Sports
  • Music
  • Choral
  • Dance
  • Art
  • Technology
  • General All-Rounder

Some schools have their own special scholarships in such fields as riding, golf or chess, often reflecting the special nature of their location or the specific interests of the school or with other specific criteria.

If your child appears capable, let them try for a scholarship

In most schools there are league tables, either of a class or house, or of the individual children and so they’re quite used to competing against each other.

Independent schools are very good at helping their students to develop a friendly competitive nature, so as to bring out their best, be it on the playing field or in the exam hall, and therefore we’d always recommend that where possible students aim for Scholarship entry to their chosen school.

At the least the experience will be beneficial and with planned and focused work they may well achieve a coveted scholarship place.

There’s much more information about schools, exams, study and more in our blog so if you’ve found this useful remember to subscribe.

Leave a Reply