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Applying for a free place at an independent school

Pupils from a wide range of different backgrounds go to independent schools. The schools themselves believe that having a broad social mix which reflects our society is incredibly important. This is just one of the reasons why so many independent schools have funding available for pupils whose families are on lower incomes. The total value of means-tested bursaries and scholarships provided by schools has increased by nearly £140m since 2011, and currently stands at close to £400m. Across all ISC schools, one third of pupils receive some form of fee assistance.

1) Why should I consider a place at an independent school?

Independent schools (often known as private schools) tend to have small class sizes, excellent exam results and a good record of entry to top universities. Many devote a significant amount of time to cultural activities, like art, drama and music, and most offer a wide variety of sporting opportunities. Because they have more teachers per 100 pupils, independent schools have good pastoral care and excellent provision for special needs. There are types of independent school that are less common in the state sector such as single-sex schools, schools for highly academic pupils, boarding schools, and schools which specialise in sport, music, acting or dance.

The trick is to find the school that best meets the needs of your child. Look at a school’s website and go to visit it as soon as possible. Independent schools take children at different ages – from age 7, 11, 13 and 16 for example.

One third of pupils at ISC schools receive fee assistance

2) Day or boarding?

There might be a number of reasons why you feel your child would benefit from being at a boarding school. Perhaps you live a long way from a good school or your child could benefit from the longer school days and wider range of activities that you can expect to find in a boarding school, for example. In some schools, boarders are there at the weekends, while at others pupils go home at weekends. Flexi-boarding can be a useful option for many parents.

Boarding schools are friendly and safe places where children tend to make good friends and have a memorable time.

A large number of independent schools have both boarders and day pupils, but the majority of independent schools are day schools.

ISC schools annual provide almost £400 million on scholarships and bursaries.

3) What about school fees?

Most independent schools are quite expensive because they receive no financial help from the Government. However, many have raised money to offer places to families on lower incomes. These schools are keen to receive applications for the fee assistance they offer. Some independent schools find that lower income families are not applying for bursaries – but these schools would very much welcome such applications.

‘Will my child fit-in?’ is a common question. Independent schools are inclusive environments full of children from diverse backgrounds. School open days are ideal opportunities to see first-hand what a given school is like and talk to staff and students about their experiences. The number of reduced-fee places or free places offered varies from school to school. At Christ’s Hospital school in Sussex, a boarding school, most of the pupils are on greatly reduced fees or pay nothing at all.

Reduced-fee and free places are normally called bursaries or assisted places. You need to find out about these from the school’s website, or by ringing the school’s admissions office. If you are considering applying for a place at a boarding school, you could also look at the Royal National Children's SpringBoard Foundation website – an organisation that pairs up children from low income homes with boarding schools.

There are five ISC schools which specialise in music and four which specialise in dance – the so-called music and dance schools. They have large numbers of free places. Fee assistance can also cover help with costs which are not included in the normal school fee, such as uniform and school trips.

To find an independent school for your child, you can use our school search here. This allows you to search by type of fee assistance and other requirements too such as location, age range, day and boarding.

Some independent schools find that lower income families are not applying for bursaries – but these schools would very much welcome such applications.