How to get your kids into public school

If you think you can't afford private school, think again, says Merryn Somerset Webb. In fact, with the number of bursaries available, the poorer you are, the better your chances.

Want to send your children to private school, but assume you can't afford it? It's a reasonable assumption. Look at the advertised private school fees and you will see that a reasonable day school costs close to £10,000 per child. Go boarding and it'll be £30,000. Before extras. After tax.

The result? Last week, Andrew Halls, head of Kings College School in Wimbledon (annual fees: £20,000), laid it out: "somewhere along the line, first the nurses stopped sending children to us; then the policemen, then the armed force, then even the local accountants and lawyers".

He might be overegging the pudding here the armed forces still benefit from amazingly good public subsidies when they send their children to boarding school; a good London lawyer shouldn't have that much trouble coming up with £20,000 a year for five years; and I'm not convinced that nursing salaries were ever the core of private school revenues. But he still makes a useful point: schools have put their fees up at going on triple the rate of inflation for the last few decades and they now "charge too much".

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Still, you might well be wrong in thinking you can't afford private school: in fact, the poorer you are, the better your chances. That's because today's private schools need a rising number of applications from parents who can't afford to pay for their services: giving out bursaries is a key part of the deal that allows them to keep their charitable status.

The Sunday Times offers a few examples: about 20% of the girls at schools run by the Girls' Day School Trust ( have bursaries; the City of London School for Girls also offers around 20% of students bursaries; and at Christ's Hospital School in West Sussex, just 16% pay the full boarding fees the rest get some kind of means-tested help. In all, more than 25% of private school children get help and of those, says the Independent Schools Council, 40% get half their fees paid.

Want your child to be one? You can go to the Good Schools Guide Advice Serviceand find out which schools to approach (for a fee of about £120). But why not just call the school you like and ask? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Otherwise, look to charitable organisations, says Charlotte Beugge in the The Sunday Times. The Ogden Trust offers 50% off fees for sixth-form students doing physics A-level and planning to do it at university too, while the Fashion and Textile Children's Trust subsidises children whose parents work in fashion or textiles. Other possibilities are at and on scholarships and bursaries, see

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.