Top private schools bail out cash-strapped parents


CASH- strapped parents are being bailed out by Scotland’s private schools as many struggle to keep paying fees.

Institutions handed out more than £35 million to help struggling parents pay their fees, more than double the amount paid just three years ago.

Tony Blair’s Alma Mater, Edinburgh’s Fettes College helped the parents of 151 pupils who were struggling to pay the £27,000 a year fees by handing out a staggering £1.4 million.

Fettes blamed the rise in bursary payments on an increase in pupil  numbers  Photo:Alan Stewart

Gordonstoun in Moray , which former pupil Prince Charles described as ‘Colditz in kilts’, also supported parents who were unable to pay the £23,000-a-year costs.

The school principal admitted the recession had had a “marked” impact of parent’s finances.

It was revealed last week that the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) had anecdotal evidence that many schools were cutting back on their bursary schemes, which help less privileged children attend fee-paying schools.

By supporting those from poorer backgrounds independent schools qualify for charitable status and tax breaks.

But a SCIS spokeswoman said schools were under pressure to help existing pupils whose parents were struggling financially.

One parent, who removed his children from the £10,000-a-year Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire, said boards were being “swamped” by parents seeking aid.

He said: “It was made clear by the principal that there is money set aside but that the pot had been tested over the last couple of years.

“We got the impression that there were parents in a worse financial position than us who the school felt were more deserving of help.”

To qualify for charitable status, private schools in Scotland have to prove they have public benefit. In 2008 four schools were reprimanded by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator for setting fees too high and being too exclusive, but a follow-up review the following year found they met the charity test.

A spokeswoman for Fettes said the rise in bursaries provided by the school could be partly explained by the fact the school roll has increased from 607 in 2006 to 730.

She said: “Fettes has offered a consistently high level of scholarships and bursaries for many years. We strongly believe that financial mans should not be a barrier to being educated at Fettes, hence the range of financial support.”

Simon Reid, the principal of Gordonstoun, said: “The pressure of the recession on present and prospective parents’ wish to give their children access to Gordonstoun’s distinctive curriculum is marked at the moment and, where possible, the school responds to this.

“However there has been no change recently in the school’s strategy for managing the generous support we enjoy from the school’s alumni, its parents and benefactors interested in the school’s educational vision.”

A spokeswoman for SCIS said: “Schools are very careful in their financial planning and many will have an additional pot of funding to support families who have short-term financial difficulties. Despite the recession, pupil numbers in the independent sector have reduced by just 0.4% over the last year – exactly the same as in the state sector.”