Next year, when private schools must detail public benefit activities, some will shine

Sixth-formers at Millfield School in Somerset are being urged to contribute to a Leavers' Scholarship to fund bursaries for children from families who cannot afford the fees. Now in its second year, and modelled on American Ivy League fund-raising methods, the scheme is one of hundreds of initiatives launched after the 2006 Charities Act underlined the need for private schools to demonstrate the public benefit they provide in return for charitable status.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to put something back and help someone less fortunate than ourselves," says Tatiana Mountbatten, 17, granddaughter of the late Lord Louis Mountbatten and one of the chief fund-raisers. "Last year, more than half of the leavers contributed, paying £5 to £500 each. This year, the donations are rolling in and we're aiming to make the participation rate 100 per cent."

As one of the country's most prestigious (and expensive) independent schools, Millfield already earmarks one of the highest proportions of its income from school fees (13.5 per cent) to bursaries and scholarships. Last year, 778 out of the school's 1,260 pupils benefited from reduced fees at a cost of £4.5m.

According to the Independent Schools Council, one in three pupils attending one of the UK's 2,500 private schools gets help with fees, the vast majority receiving scholarships or bursaries from their school, which are worth a total of £300m. "There is a long history of social purpose in the independent sector, going back centuries," says Jonathan Shephard, the council's chief executive. "Independent schools have always been very much part of their communities, building links and running voluntary programmes, and helping out when families fall on hard times."

Many private schools increased their bursary provision after Labour abolished the assisted places scheme in 1997. "Over the last 10 years, increasingly schools have been moving money out of scholarships into bursaries, which are means-tested," he says. "They also publicise their community programmes more extensively."

The trend towards bursaries was given added impetus last March when the Charity Commission produced draft guidance to all charities on public benefit. Private schools took heart from it, but "B+ – a bit fuzzy round the edges" was Shephard's verdict. With specific educational-sector guidance still to come, some are nervous about how it will be interpreted.

Private-school heads argue that they already do a lot to widen access. At Dulwich College in London, over 350 boys get financial help, costing £2m annually. Scholarships are limited to 30 per cent of fees. Bursaries are higher (most are 40-60 per cent of fees). "When pupils apply, we make our selection based on the entrance exam and interview. Then we look at who needs a bursary to come here, and go down the list awarding money until we run out," says Graham Able, master of Dulwich.

He wants to offer even more bursaries, funded by increases in bequests, gifts, endowments and franchise schools overseas. The school has three international schools in China already, and a fourth will open later this year.

"The aim is to have enough of our own income so that, by 2017, we will be 100 per cent needs-blind. If a boy needs a bursary to come here, the money will be found." Parents who can afford the fees will still have to pay, however.

Another sought-after London school, St Paul's, has done away with monetary academic scholarships completely. Martin Stephen, its high master, says that he does not believe in paying parents for bright children. "We only award bursaries now, at a cost of over £600,000 a year and rising," he says. "Within five years it will be £1m. We look at children who would benefit from a St Paul's education, then we look at how they will pay the fees. I hope we are recreating the culture of direct-grant grammar schools."

The Cheltenham Ladies' College has also revised its bursary policy. Vicky Tuck, its principal, says that five years ago, the school only gave bursaries to a handful of girls who had won a scholarship and needed extra help, or whose parents' financial situation changed while they were in school. "We now offer entrance bursaries, which are rigorously means-tested," she says. "By this September, we shall have 60 such girls with us."

Most scholarships have been reduced in value to 10 to 20 per cent of fees, but she opposes phasing them out completely. "Scholars bring a great deal to the school," she says. "They raise the overall standard, and everyone benefits from having talented musicians and artists around."

Schools vary as to the level of parental salary they consider eligible for bursary support. For some, the cut-off is £35,000 a year; others will consider applications from parents earning up to £60,000. The size of mortgages is also taken into account.

As President of the Girls' Schools Association, Vicky Tuck is particularly conscious of the dilemma that schools with limited resources face if they cannot fund extra bursaries without increasing the fees, and the effect on parents who earn too much to qualify for means-tested help. "This is already a very expensive education," she says. "You don't want to price yourself out of the market. All schools have to have robust financial planning and control, and be both businesslike and ethical."

What is still unclear is whether the Charity Commission will require schools to offer more 100 per cent bursaries (for parents who are short of money, a 50 per cent bursary is about as useful as a one-way ticket to the moon).

According to the charity lawyer Julian Blake of Bates Wells & Braithwaite, the draft guidance says that schools should ensure that people on low incomes must be able to benefit. After consultation, the guidance was amended to suggest that people in poverty cannot be excluded from the opportunity to benefit. "This is a less contentious statement of the underlying law, and should help schools to refocus on their obligations," he says.

Aldenham School in Elstree, Hertfordshire, allocates around eight per cent of its annual income to fund bursaries and scholarships (£700,000 in 2007). Its headmaster James Fowler believes that it would be regrettable if schools were forced to go down the route of only giving 100 per cent bursaries, because it would severely reduce the number of boys and girls who benefit. "For every one family we could assist at 100 per cent, I would much prefer to assist four families with 25 per cent bursaries," he says.

He, too, is worried about the risk of admissions being polarised, with middle-class parents being squeezed out. "A needs-blind policy is simply not open to most independent schools, who are working on relatively tight margins and do not have large endowments. Their main expenditure goes on staffing, facilities and activities. There is not a lot of money swilling around."

Like many independent schools, Aldenham has a thriving community programme, including Saturday science lessons for local primary-school children, and football courses for inner-city youngsters, working with Arsenal FC.

Shared facilities and community linkups get the approval of Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, the educational charity set up in 1997 to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and improve social mobility. But he cautions against the Charity Commission conducting a sabre-rattling exercise, to get private schools supporting city academies. "This generates lots of publicity, but diverts attention from the real issue – which is that these schools are closed to the 90 per cent of families who cannot afford the fees," he says.

From March 2009, all independent schools will need to publicly record all their public-benefit activities, including community benefits, although it is unclear how much detail the Charity Commission will require. According to one bursar, it took nearly a week for him to collate all the information about this year's charitable activities as a dry run – and he discovered activities going on that even he didn't know about.

The facts

Only half of independent schools in England and Wales register as charities, but those that do get an 80 per cent discount on business rates. Any profits are exempt from Corporation Tax. They can also reclaim tax deducted from investment income, and on donations under Gift Aid – equal to a 25 per cent top-up on non-fee income.

There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice