Bursary provision - a topic that deserves some attention

Posted on: 11 Mar 2014

Best practice for bursary provision was top of the agenda at the Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) School Bursaries conference in January, run with the Head Masters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC).

Jo Beckett, IDPE’s Managing Director, was pleased to find that bursaries collaboration between the two organisations works very well indeed…

As delegates arrived at the HMC IDPE conference on School Bursaries, they congratulated themselves on getting a place (it was oversubscribed to such an extent that there was a kilted bouncer on the door of the Caledonian Club); then they commented “What a great delegate list”.

And it was. The list included Heads, Bursars, Development Directors and Governors from some of the UK’s best known schools – boarding and day, single sex and co-educational. There were also Heads of various charities – Springboard, Buttle UK, the Royal National Children's Foundation.

They were there because they share an interest, indeed a passion, for bursaries. The conference covered the whole process, from strategic planning and attracting applications, to means-testing, home visits, fundraising and measuring success. It’s not just a question of handing out freebies and these days the pressure is on to do it properly and do it well. Our competitors aren’t necessarily the other schools in the pages of the Good Schools Guide, they are the NSPCC, Children in Need, Kids’ Company. In justifying our place on the Charity Commission’s register, and to remain accountable to our donors, we have to behave more like charities – demonstrate clearly who we are helping, how much we are spending on it and what the outcomes of our programmes are.

There is a vast amount of bursary provision in the UK’s independent schools. Tim Baines of BCS has calculated that of the £300m worth of bursaries provided, 78% of the cost is being borne by the schools themselves (the remainder comes from donations or support from charitable trusts). If schools are spending this much (or sacrificing income, if that is how Bursars look at it), it must be hugely important.

So a lot of money is being spent and a lot of expertise is building up: this is evidently a topic that deserves some attention. To pull together the great delegate list, IDPE drew on the help of HMC and together they cast the net wide. Bursary expertise exists in so many different places inside schools. Sometimes it’s the Head and Admissions Department; in other schools the Bursar controls the process; elsewhere Development Directors are becoming more involved in the selection of candidates and monitoring successes.

Patrick Derham led the way with an opening address. A panel session followed with speakers explaining how they had built a bursary programme into their own school strategies. Individual speakers then led break-out sessions which addressed outreach programmes and selection processes, with fundraising a hot topic for all attendees. Springboard’s Ian Davenport gave an insight into his newly established impact measurement programme and following a speedy gallop through John Claughton’s impressive successes with the Assisted Places scheme at King Edward’s Birmingham, the day concluded with an intimate and revelatory interview with two donors from Rugby who spoke candidly about their own motivation to donate and the relationship they now have with their old school.

This was the first time that a whole day has been devoted to bursary programmes in independent schools. There will be many more to come.

If one aspect stood out, it was the collaborative atmosphere of the whole day. Expertise was shared, ideas exchanged and visits agreed. We agree that what we are doing is good but there is much that can be improved.

For more information about fundraising and bursaries please contact Jo Beckett at IDPE on 01225 829030.

IDPE is an organisation which supports over 300 schools including independent, grammar and state schools. IDPE provides practical support, expert training and guidance in schools’ development.

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