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The power of transformational bursaries

By Talk Education
18 November 2020

Forget those preconceptions about independent schools being the preserve of the privileged: while some parents at the most prestigious schools might be financiers, others come from very different worlds. Fee assistance is an important priority for most independent schools – and many of them are actively growing their financial aid funds to enable a much wider range of families to access independent education.

So how do schools find the most deserving pupils to benefit from their most transformational bursaries? We spoke to Ali Henderson, CEO of charity Royal SpringBoard to find out more.

Tell us about Royal SpringBoard...

Royal SpringBoard is a charity providing disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people with access to fully funded bursaries at boarding schools. All of the children the charity supports are currently, or have been, either looked after in the care system; vulnerable and on the ‘edge of care’ due to difficult home lives; or are from areas with high levels of social deprivation.

All SpringBoarders will come from families with very low incomes (eligible for free school meals), many are living in overcrowded temporary, rented or social housing and/or are from single parent families with a lack of available role models.

How did SpringBoard come about?

SpringBoard was launched back in 2012 to scale up the model of the Arnold Foundation, an initiative that Patrick Derham, then headmaster of Rugby School, had introduced to offer transformational bursary places to boys from Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy – a youth club in Tower Hamlets working with young people at risk of joining criminal gangs that are associated with drugs and knives.

Working in partnership with the club’s inspirational leader, Ray Lewis, a number of boys from Tower Hamlets attended Rugby School on fully funded sixth-form places and thrived not just academically, but pastorally too. The boys went on to universities across the UK and became role models raising aspirations in their communities in East London.

It became obvious that there was a demand on the part of many schools for support to identify, prepare and support young people from deprived areas to access more transformational bursaries – and so the model was rolled out across many other boarding schools, both independent and state, up and down the country.

Which areas or communities in the UK do you target?

We focus particularly on areas facing multiple deprivations; where there is a lack of good-quality education opportunities, a risk of drug or knife crime or a high rate of child poverty. We work in partnership with local state secondary schools, youth clubs and mentoring charities who work with young people to raise aspirations. By working in partnership in this way, our aim isn’t just to broker boarding-school places, but to do this as part of broader school improvement and regeneration efforts and so make an impact on social mobility across the UK.

From the initial focus on Tower Hamlets, we’ve grown to establish community partnerships in 14 different areas across the UK. We work with communities in Chester, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Leicester, East, South and North London and Birmingham. We also work with IntoUniversity, who have a network of centres in areas facing entrenched issues of social immobility and deprivation.

How many schools are involved?

We now have 120 schools in our accredited network; a spread of prep and senior schools from the independent sector as well as a number of state boarding schools. To date, we’ve supported more than 800 children to access fully funded places at these schools.

Up until now, we’ve worked exclusively with boarding schools, but from 2022 we’re aiming to bring day schools into the mix too.

Who pays?

Typically, the schools fund 90 per cent of the cost of the placement themselves – a real show of their generosity and commitment. Around a third of our schools will fully fund the entirety of the school fees and associated costs – the ‘110 per cent’ bursary, which includes provision for extras such as uniform, books and trips. For the remainder, we fundraise to contribute a small grant contribution towards the fees and extras. The average contribution that we make as a charity is in the region of £3,000 to £4,000 per pupil p/a. From a donor perspective, this means that every £1 they donate, we leverage (on average) £9 of school support.

Do children need to be exceptionally talented to be awarded a bursary?

We don’t cherry-pick on the basis of any talent or academic ability. The power of having 104 different schools involved in our programme is that we have access to school places that suit all young people, regardless of their academic ability or pastoral, extracurricular and social needs. We look at every SpringBoarder on a case-by-case basis to see where they’d fit best.

Sixth-form entrance is always conditional on GCSE results, in the same way that once a child has been offered a place at a school, they need to reach the same academic threshold as any other pupil in order to progress through to the sixth form.

How do pupils find the settling-in process at these schools?

Children are amazing at slotting in and making friends. We only work with accredited schools who are deeply committed to making sure their school environments are as inclusive as possible.

Every SpringBoarder participates in a preparation programme that can begin as much as 18 months before starting their school placement. We introduce them to other children who are going through the same process and we make sure there’s a strong network of parental support in place within the community too. There are always opportunities for the children to come together to chat about their experiences and talk about anything they’ve found difficult.

At the heart of Patrick’s original vision was the idea that you need to have a really solid support system in place to help the children adjust and thrive both in their school placements and when they return home in the holidays – and this is something we take incredibly seriously.

Do most pupils stick with their placement the whole way through to the end?

Yes – and this is something that we’re incredibly proud of. To date, 96 per cent of the children we have supported have continued the whole way through to the end of their placement. They get fantastic GCSE and A-level results, exposure to all the wonderful pastoral support and co-curricular opportunities at the heart of these schools – and develop incredible leadership characteristics, resilience and independence in their placements.

What happens when a SpringBoarder’s time at school ends?

We know that our impact does not end when pupils complete their school placements. We encourage all former SpringBoard pupils to stay in touch with us; and support them to continue to aim high and ‘give back’ in multiple ways to their communities as they chart their post-school journeys.

With a network of nearly 300 alumni, we arrange networking and work experience opportunities, signposting for those who need additional financial support to access university scholarships and ways for them to support our current pupils as mentors or buddies. Alumni are supported to speak in assemblies and meetings in their communities; become trustees (one of our alumni is the chair of governors at his local primary school, two sit on one of our governance committees); and encourage the next generation to work hard and aim high.

We talk about SpringBoard as a type of through care – you’re a SpringBoarder for life, and we aim to provide our bursary recipients with all the tools they need to keep raising aspirations for life.

If you would like to support Royal SpringBoard, you can donate here.

Watch Nana's story to find out how a Royal SpringBoard bursary can transform a young person's life.