Poorer families reluctant to apply for bursaries, leading headmistress suggests
More needs to be done to encourage the poorest families to consider sending their child to an independent school, according to Gwen Byrom.
Poor families may be reluctant to apply for private schools because they do not want their children to feel uncomfortable or out of their depth, a leading headmistress has suggested.
Most independent school leaders would be in favour of offering more full, 100% bursaries for the poorest youngsters, but there are significant barriers in getting these youngsters to even consider a private education, according to Gwen Byrom.
The incoming president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said that more work needed to be done to encourage disadvantaged families in the country to apply for places at fee-paying schools.
Mrs Byrom, who is also head of Loughborough High School, a fee-paying girls’ school in the East Midlands, said that independent schools were often criticised for not doing enough to help the children who needed it most – such as those from the very poorest areas.
While it is easy to suggest that fee-paying schools should offer more financial assistance, in reality, there were “social and psychological hurdles” in getting families that would be eligible for such support to apply, she said.
Mrs Byrom, who becomes GSA president in January, said: “I would like to see the sector offering a lot more 100% bursaries. I think we all would, I don’t know a head who wouldn’t say they wanted to see more 100% bursaries offered by independent schools.”
She said there were conditions to this – for example some private schools may not have the financial means to do so.
“But the other caveat I would add is that just because a school offers 100% bursaries, it doesn’t necessarily mean that families will be falling over themselves to apply for them.”
The school leader, who said she was currently doing a doctoral qualification based on bursaries and why families do not apply for them, said: “There are social and psychological hurdles towards applying to an independent school if that is not part of your background.
“There is a lot of social and cultural capital that’s tied up with it.
She said research had indicated that parents’ choice of school was sometimes reliant on familiarity.
“So families will go for something that effectively is within your comfort zone,” she said.
“It’s a school that you recognise, possibly from your own educational background, or it’s a school that you have experienced, that you have seen, that you have met people at, but it’s very hard for anyone, we all have our comfort zone, to take a leap into the unknown.
“Particularly if you feel that it’s a situation that you’re going to feel out of your depth, and parents wouldn’t want to put their children in an uncomfortable position, they wouldn’t want their children to feel out of their depth.
“And so that’s one of the barriers, that, if we’re going to offer more 100% bursaries, and get strong uptake on them, that’s one of the things that we have to get past.”
She said that parents may also sometimes worry that their child would be identified as being in receipt of financial aid, but that schools work hard to ensure this is not the case.