Fee remission: could schools do more?

Author: Heather Styche-Patel, Head of Strategy, Marketing and Research

The combined influences of public benefit, concerns about affordability and wanting to maintain a mix of pupils from different backgrounds have pushed bursary programmes up the agenda of many schools.  The amount of money being spent on fee remissions has increased in recent years, but critics are still concerned that more could be done.

In July 2017, the Sutton Trust published a report which was the result of a study conducted by Staffordshire University’s Institute for Education Policy Research.  Researchers analysed the websites and financial accounts of 348 schools and discovered there is significant variation between schools and the proportion of money spent on means-tested bursaries.  More than a quarter of schools offer bursaries and scholarships totalling less than 5% of their total income, whilst another quarter offer more than 10%.  Researchers also found that schools with higher incomes spend a lower proportion on bursaries: schools which devote 1-2% of their total income to bursaries have an average income of £10.4m; schools which devote 6-8% to bursaries have an average income of £8.2m.

There is clear evidence, (e.g. ISC annual census data) that across the sector, the number of children receiving more significant awards is beginning to increase.  In 2013, ISC reported that 4,954 pupils (12.4% of all pupils in receipt of a means-tested bursary) were receiving a 100% remission. This compared with 5,483 (13.5% of pupils in receipt of a means-tested bursary) in 2017.  However, the total number of pupils in receipt of bursary awards has been relatively static (39,825 in 2013 compared with 40,497 in 2017).

We are working with schools seeking to identify potential for expanding their bursary outreach and to develop strategies to target communications to reach families for whom a significant fee remission would provide life changing opportunities.

The challenge for many schools is, of course, funding pupil fee remissions, with the majority of schools providing the funds through gross fee income.  As the spotlight continues to shine on public benefit and charitable status for independent schools (see the link below to the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper for a commentary on the current situation) the drive to generate new revenue to fund bursaries remains a priority for school development offices across the country.

The IDPE and Graham-Pelton Consulting Schools’ Alumni Relations and Fundraising benchmarking survey (published in 2016) supports the conclusions we made in our Ten Trends 2017/18 report, that many more schools do seem to be well on the way to generating very high levels of philanthropic support and that many more schools are on the way to generating transformational fundraising income.  Is it, therefore, only a matter of time before we see a shift in both the value of awards but also the number of awards made?  Will we also see a more consistent picture of awards being made across all types of schools?


Further reading


Ten Trends 2015: Trend 10 Affordability – download for free here

Ten Trends 2017/18: Trend 5 Development & Fundraising and Trend 8 Fee Remission – more information is here

Sutton Trust report:

House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper, Number 05222, 19 September 2017, Charitable status and independent schools.

2016 IDPE and Graham-Pelton Consulting Schools’ Alumni Relations and Fundraising Benchmarking Survey:


Share This Story

“RSAcademics took enormous trouble to understand the complex nature of our college business streams and our international ethos, and were always a pleasure to deal with. I have no hesitation in recommending them.”

Andrew RattuePrincipal, St Clare's, Oxford