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Bursary experts, please help?

(85 Posts)
Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 12:21:35

My two dds get bursaries at a local prep school. The older one gets 50% and the younger one gets 25% plus a sibling discount. When they were given the bursaries I was told that they would be very unlikely to be reduced unless our circumstances changed, which they haven't.

I have just had a letter from the school which says that my older dds bursary will be 25% for next year and the younger one's will also be 25%. I am panicking because I don't have time to find another school for them - and will not be able to keep them there unless they continue to receive the same level of support.

The school is not oversubscribed - in fact the class numbers are low. And my older dds class has dropped from 12 to 10 last term. She is doing well academically so there is no reason for them to find any problem with her that I know of. The school also advertises it the fact that you can apply for bursaries on its home page.

I am just wondering if you experts have ever heard of this happening? I cannot get hold of the person in finance as he is not there today. The person I spoke to on the phone said it may be a mistake. But I am very worried. Any advice?

Ladymuck Mon 10-Mar-14 14:23:58

If numbers in the class are that low, then I would be worried about the financial future of the school tbh. Have you looked at the accounts for the school online at the Charity Commission?

LadyMaryLikesCake Mon 10-Mar-14 14:28:48

Ladymuck's post sounds about right. If they don't have the money for a bursary then it's looking as though they are not too good financially. It would be worthwhile looking at the accounts. Have they started selling land? Lost key staff? Have the staff been replaced? Replaced with newly qualified/less experienced/unqualified staff? Is the building starting to look a little run-down? Have they started asking for money for little things? Stopped doing things like swimming lessons or less trips? Have a think, they should give you an overall picture.

Sorry about your bursary sad Have a chat with the bursar but do have a good nose into things.

meditrina Mon 10-Mar-14 14:31:35

It does sound as if the bursary pot isn't keeping up with cost of bursaries awarded (and with low returns on investments, this is an all too plausible scenario). It might or might not be a reflection of wider health of the school's finances as they can be totally unconnected. But worth checking.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 14:41:43

Thanks for your replies everyone. LadyMary. You are absolutely right. The excellent head who has only been at the school a few years has just announced that she is leaving at the end of this year. A load of teachers fled with little explanation. They have started charging extra for school meals and cancelling swimming lessons in the summer term. All these things have concerned me. The bursar was also (we think) sacked. However, they have just installed Wifi throughout the school...

What really annoys me though is that my younger dd has only just joined the school and is in reception. When I enquired about a place for her they almost bit my hand off, offering a bursary and also a free uniform and free after school care. My older dd has been on a bursary at the school for a number of years. I am annoyed that they have put me in the position of thinking that they will be able to stay at the school and now I have little time to find another school for either of them for September as it is getting late on. Why on earth offer me a bursary for my younger child and let her start at the school when they know they cannot afford it?

I am concerned generally about the head leaving though. Who knows what will happen after that?

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 14:48:48

In addition, of course, I will need to make sure I give notice for them at the end of this term, which is very little time at all and I will have to pay fees in advance for a month. It would have been the right thing to do to warn me of the possibility of this last term.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 14:49:17

For a term, not a month I meant to say.

wonderingwoman64 Mon 10-Mar-14 14:49:35

What does the wording of the bursary offer letter say? I'd look at that first. My dd's scholarship letter spoke about it being "for the duration of her education at the school" for instance.

However, I would also be looking at moving my children - sounds to me as though the school could be in financial difficulties.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 14:52:52

They always review the awards yearly and we send in financial statements every year. Last year I was told by the admissions officer that the awards would almost certainly not change unless my circumstances changed.

LadyMaryLikesCake Mon 10-Mar-14 14:53:48

Hmm. It's not looking good to be honest. They are possibly trying to increase the numbers to keep it afloat, which is why they were so helpful with your younger DD. It also gives the impression of a 'healthy' school (in financial terms) if there's a lot of children, so it attracts new families - no one's going to be interested in sending their child to a school with few pupils as they know that the overheads will be higher than the income - the same for the wi-fi. Swimming lessons are expensive so are often the first to go (bet they will still be on the prospectus though wink). Ds's school do raise the prices for school meals because of the increase in food prices so this may be OK, swimming lessons can be expensive though (mainly the transport costs) so that and the leaving staff is a worry.

As someone said earlier, maybe they were not aware of how much was in the bursary pot when you were offered the place? It's hard to say (quite interesting that the bursar is going though).

I wouldn't write them off just yet but I would have a look around, just incase. A new head can either make or break a school.

thanks < for you. It must be a stressful situation for you to be in sad

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:00:29

It certainly is stressful, mainly because of the lack of notice. If they have cut a lot of people's bursaries though I don't think we will be the only ones to leave. My younger dd is one of 3 on a bursary in a class of only 9.

Tbh I was thinking about looking for a different school for my older dd but for year 7, not year 6.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:04:12

By the way - what do you look for when looking at the accounts? I have just found what I think it is and the income of the school appears to have gone down and down since 2008. I compared it with another girls school nearby where the income was at least three items as much and has gone up and up.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:04:39

Three time not items.

LadyMaryLikesCake Mon 10-Mar-14 15:05:27

sad Have a look at their finances on the Company's House web site. I'd also be tempted to take a look at your local council's planning application page. Some schools in trouble will sell off land or, in the case of ds's first prep, the head tried to get planning permission to turn the whole school into flats. This was rejected so she sold it to another head. We were only told that she'd sold it 5 days before the start of the Autumn term.

AgaPanthers Mon 10-Mar-14 15:06:57

I don't see how they can keep going with 9/10 in the class and then bursaries as well.

LadyMaryLikesCake Mon 10-Mar-14 15:09:54

Income going down indicates less children. High overheads and lower income isn't good (think of it as your bank account, you want to spend less and earn more). Are they deeply in debt with no savings/investments? Have any investments failed? Are they selling things off? Mortgages/second mortgage on the land or building? Loans?

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:10:40

Aga - things were much worse a few years ago. My older dd's class went down to only 5 and there were another few classes the same way. We then got the new head and she changed a few things. Last year more new children joined the school and it was looking a bit healthier.

The trustees are the ones who allocate money for things and they came up with the idea to offer every child a bursary who joined in 2013 if they met the criteria. This is still on their home page now (an updated version).

LIZS Mon 10-Mar-14 15:11:39

I doesn't bode well and tbh I'd be hotfooting out of there before it si forced upon you and while your dd's are young. Maybe they have reallocated your dd's 25% to another equally deserving child , to increase their numbers. You do still have to time to find an alternative for September, but it may not be a private with bursary.

LadyMaryLikesCake Mon 10-Mar-14 15:14:46

It depends on how they are funding the bursaries, Bursarymum. If they are using a percentage of their income and they don't have enough children then they won't be able to support every child. Usually schools have separate pots for bursaries which are covered by investments they have made etc, it doesn't come from the fees of current children.

Have they started putting classes together under one teacher? If they don't have enough children they often do this as it removes the need for one of the salaries.

AgaPanthers Mon 10-Mar-14 15:15:18

Had a quick look at mine (it's a 3+ school, so not all are full-time), their spending was £10k/child (income divided by roll size). Of that £6k/child went to teachers, £1k/child to admin, and the balance for premises and catering. They had no bursaries at all, and their spending was matched by their fees income.

AgaPanthers Mon 10-Mar-14 15:17:27

They do have some money allocated for a bursary, but it's very nominal, and they haven't got a bursary candidate at the moment.

So in the OP's case the school either needs to be old and famous and therefore well-endowed with donations from dead people (which is very unusual), or the bursaries are a marketing thing to keep the numbers up, which doesn't sound like the best business strategy, unless they are charging very high fees.

ChocolateWombat Mon 10-Mar-14 15:20:08

I would put your queries in writing (email) to them today.
Ask for clarification of what bursary your 2 daughters are entitled to for next year. Ask if there has been a cu, why, when your circumstances have not changed. Ask if there is a chance of this kind of thing happening again in future. Ask about notice periods for children on bursaries.

I would make it clear that you are very disappointed, given your youngest is only a term and a half into their schooling and the the school knew your financial position when you applied for her. I would make it clear that if the bursaries are cut, you will be looking elsewhere. Ask for answers to these questions in writing.

They may maintain the offer if you threaten to leave. They might not. Even if they do, you need to consider if you want your children in a school which do this and which maybe in a financial position which means even if your bursary is maintained this year, might be cut in future. Your youngest has a long time to go and moving sooner rather than later might be best. I hope it is just an error and they grovel an apology, but sadly I have heard of this kind of thing before in very small schools, which only have 1 class per year, with declining numbers.

Send the email today and ask for a reply as a matter of urgency.

Best of luck.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:20:10

No they haven't started putting classes together. LIZ - surely the point is that if they don't have enough money for existing children who are doing well and have been at the school for years like my dd then why are they still encouraging new people to apply for bursaries on the home page? It's not ethical IMO and it's supposed to be a religious school with strong ethical principles.

It is still possible they have made a mistake. They made a mistake with my invoice at the beginning of the year.

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:23:20

But yes, I will be looking elsewhere. Who's to say that they will not withdraw the award completely next year?

Bursarymum Mon 10-Mar-14 15:23:49

Thanks ChocolateWombat.

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