News and Events

Scholarships – developing excellence, or marketing strategies?

Posted: 29th January 2024

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Exeter School has a long and proud tradition of excellence in many fields. We work hard to support our pupils and develop their skills and talents, along with their character, through all aspects of our programme. We work hard to stretch and challenge every pupil, regardless of age or stage, in every area of school life. This is not easy and celebrating the successes of our pupils is an important part of the school’s approach. Within our character education programme and our virtues approach, we nurture the pupils in their intellectual development and, alongside this, in their civic, moral, and performance virtues, all within the context of a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics framework for developing character.

One way in which pupils’ skills can be developed is within a bespoke programme of opportunities and additional activities to help support the more able, gifted, and talented. Such a programme can offer a wealth of support, opportunities for older pupils to lead the younger ones, a space for recognition and celebration of talent, and the investment of time and resources into a particular area of school life. At Exeter, we have such a programme, named our Exonian Scholarship Awards, and it brings huge benefits to the pupils who are selected in drama, music, art, and sport as being especially talented. This programme is about to enter its third year, and there is no doubt that it has been a great success since it was launched. Pupils from within Exeter School can apply, but so can external applicants, who might be looking to join the school for the first time at either 11+ (into Y7), into Y9 at 13+, or into the sixth form, for their A-Level studies. We are proud of the programme that we have developed; it provides a platform for the nurturing of talent, for the development of collaborative working within the programme, and for enhancing those crucial aspects of the arts and sport within the wider school community.

Typically, many schools offer fee remission along with scholarships. This can end up with neighbouring schools in bidding wars for talented pupils, and it can quickly devalue the scholarship and, unintentionally, raise the fees for all those pupils paying full fees in order to fund the scholarship. It is not unusual for such schools to have very large numbers of pupils on scholarships; the result is that it diverts the precious fee remission funds from those who really need the support, through the means-tested bursary funding, to those who can easily pay the full fee.

We believe passionately in the importance of accessibility. We want all pupils who would benefit from an Exeter School education to be able to access one, and that means that we need to hold on to our fee-remission budget and disperse it only through means-tested bursaries. When I joined the school four years ago, my predecessor shared with me this important tenet, which sits as the foundation stone for Exeter School. He believed, as I do, that academic scholarship awards should be one-off prizes, not ongoing discounts on the fees, and that a scholarship programme should be one that nurtures and further develops talent in our pupils, recognises their commitment, passion, and skills, and reaches for excellence, not something that is used as a conversation starter at dinner parties or a way to pitch schools against each other when bidding for pupils.

Of course, the fact that, as a school, we offer excellent value for money alongside excellent outcomes for all of our pupils means that, actually, everyone benefits from the stretch and challenge that this programme brings. In The Times and Sunday Times Parent Power tables for 2023, we were seventh academically in the southwest (including the Bristol and Bath schools as well as schools as far to the east as Cheltenham), 94th nationally, and our fees were lower than all other schools in the region, bar one. That is what Exonian Excellence is all about.

January 9 2024

Categories: Head's blog
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