Abingdon School headmaster Michael Windsor explores bursaries and scholarships and explains why a private education may be an option for parents who would not otherwise consider it.

CHOOSING a school can be a stressful business.

We are fortunate in the Oxford area to have a great choice of schools both in the maintained and independent sectors but parents still understandably spend a great deal of time and anxiety weighing up their options.

Independent education may not be on the radar for all families for a variety of reasons but parents are sometimes quick to rule it out on the grounds of cost alone.

There is though a great deal of assistance available in the form of bursaries and scholarships and it’s certainly worth looking into, even if your first thought is that independent education is likely to be out of reach.

Schools vary in the type of scholarships and bursaries they offer but generally scholarships do not take parental income into account but bursaries are means-tested.

Scholarships are awarded on the basis of ability in a particular area.

Many schools offer academic scholarships but they are also usually available in other areas of achievement, such as sport, music, drama and art.

Different schools attach different values to their scholarships, they can represent a hefty discount at some schools, though not all.

At Abingdon, the monetary value of scholarships is nominal with the essential benefit being that scholars gain from extension programmes which are designed to stretch them and give extra value beyond the standard curriculum.

In return, we expect a high degree of commitment and leadership in the area for which they have been given the scholarship.

Bursaries are means-tested reductions in fees that enable pupils whose family cannot afford full fees to attend independent schools.

There is a wide range of bursaries available, from those that cover full fees plus extras to partial bursaries where families do make some financial contribution.

The level of bursaries is related to the financial need of the family, rather than the academic ability of the pupil, although in schools where entrance is selective, applicants will need to meet the normal entry criteria.

There is a lot of assistance available.

In the past academic year, pupils at schools in the Independent Schools Council received £900 million in fee assistance, an increase of 4.9 per cent on the previous year, which meant that 33 per cent of pupils received some sort of help with their fees.

Bursary information is usually available on the admissions pages of school websites and admissions teams are also primed to help.

Schools have different ways of assessing need but parents will normally complete a bursary application form where details of income and assets are given.

Some schools require a home visit.

All information given in the application process is confidential and if a child receives a bursary that also remains confidential throughout their time at the school.

Parents often worry that their children will be treated differently at school but this is absolutely not the case.

Children receiving bursary awards are treated in exactly the same way as all other children.

The process of applying for a bursary can seem daunting but there is plenty of advice and support available on the way; schools really do want to help.

It is certainly worth the trouble as the outcomes can be life-changing.

It is a real joy to see pupils thriving and going on to achieve some spectacular successes.

So my advice would be not to hold back but get in touch and put in that application.