Support structure

Scottish independent schools are casting around for new ways to help pupils who couldn't otherwise afford the fees, says Caroline Haydon
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The Independent Online

Independent schools in Scotland are raising money to help pupils who could not otherwise afford fees, and it's a trend that's been growing, says the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS). Schools are trying to offset the worst of the recent price rises, which have been above the level of inflation. They also want to keep places open to those who cannot afford to pay full fees after the scrapping of the assisted places scheme - many have historic charitable foundations that they are keen to keep up.

As well as National Insurance rises, teachers' salaries have increased after implementation of a recent report on pay and conditions, all adding to the bill. The number of pupils at Scottish independents has remained fairly level over the past 12 years, bucking a national trend of sharp decline. Pupil numbers in Scottish state schools are expected to drop by a huge 15 per cent in 10 years' time. Independent schools are keen to avoid following suit. "Schools are working hard to raise bursary funds, and a lot of them are recruiting specialist fundraising staff," says Fiona Valpy, the information officer at SCIS.

More schools are appointing special development directors to manage fundraising schemes, and there is a gradual professionalisation of the way funds are run, says Lesley McKean, the development officer at Scotland's largest independent day school, George Watson's College in Edinburgh. "Since assisted places were phased out at the end of last year, the school needed to find a way of offering financial support to pupils - in line with the way the founder established the school," she says.

George Watson's Family Foundation was set up in 1997 to bridge the gap, with 130 pupils receiving help on a sliding scale, from full fee remission to about 10 per cent of fees waived - 15 more pupils than last year. "The challenge now is to sustain that, by building up fundraising through gifts and legacies," says McKean. "It's happening more as schools find fee income can't support bursaries and capital development."

Scholarships and bursaries have also increased at Loretto School near Edinburgh, where the creation of Scotland's only Golf Academy last year brought in budding players from across Britain. The three golf scholarships offered when the Academy opened were upped to six this year, and the 11 bursaries offered in 2002 have been increased to 14 - not all golf-related.

The school, which takes 270 senior boys and girls, both day pupils and boarders, has a golf professional on the staff, with golf scholars following a full academic curriculum as well as perfecting their game.

At Gordonstoun, where the school mission statement emphasises that the intake is genuinely inclusive, both in student composition and in catering for those of a wide ability range, the headmaster Mark Pyper has taken the unusual step of setting fees for 2004-2005 a full year in advance - and limiting increases to two per cent. About one-third of the 454 students at the school receive financial assistance or support, he says. "Most of this comes in the form of grants from the Gordonstoun Foundation, and the number of applicants has risen substantially in recent years as fees have moved ahead very much faster than inflation. We have managed to satisfy almost all needs but, recognising the difficulties some parents have in affording fees at any independent school, we have set the fees in advance and limited the increase."

At another school, Fettes College, famous for the fact that it educated Tony Blair, the Scottish tradition of charitable foundation is strong. The original Fettes Foundation was set up in 1870 to educate the children of one-parent families and orphans - and the school has always had a significant number of pupils receiving support, with a small number of foundation scholars receiving free education. It now has 600 boys and girls, aged eight to 18, most of whom are boarders.

The average secondary fees in Scotland are about £6,300 a year for day pupils and £17,900 for boarders.