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Over recent weeks and months, you may well have seen or heard various senior Labour politicians describing their plans to “end tax breaks” or “close tax loopholes” for independent schools.  These plans would, essentially, remove charitable status from private schools, taking away VAT exemption for fees, among other things.  

There will be doubtless be further debate around Labour’s plans in the run up to the next election, but their focus on charitable status does offer an opportunity to remind ourselves of all the work that we do, particularly because it is only possible thanks to the generous support of parents, OCs and other donors, in this area.   

You’ll know already about our strong and ever-developing partnership with the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham (LAET) and, through our Chrysalis Partnership programme, the assistance we offer to another 50 local schools; we do this by employing a further twenty or so full-time equivalent teachers and support staff who work with or in our partner schools.  It’s a unique programme of which we are very proud. But I want to use this blog to focus on bursaries. 

I firmly believe that we should make a Highgate education open to as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible.  We are and will remain an academically selective school, but I am passionate in my view that, wherever we can, we should ensure that financial circumstances are not a bar to application or continued attendance.   

To that end, over 90 of our pupils – including, for the first time in the School’s history, some in the Junior School – receive bursaries.  Over half of these pupils receive full funding: that is, 100% fee remission; in fact, 80% of bursary pupils at Highgate receive 90% or more in fee assistance.   About 45 bursary pupils also receive help with music tuition fees and instrument hire, as part of our commitment to the co-curriculum and its provision of an education beyond academics. All our bursaries are means-tested, ensuring that those in greatest need receive the greatest help: we don’t offer academic scholarships which, in many schools, are effectively free remissions.  

Some well-known, big-ticket schools have endowments which were set up centuries ago to enable children to attend their fee-paying school, but most schools, including Highgate, create bursaries either through fund-raising, commercial activity or from fee income.  We want to expand Highgate’s provision still further from the 7% of families benefiting from our bursaries which is why, at the start of this term, we launched the Bursary Participation Programme (BPP): a way for all fee-paying families to donate, should they so wish, £100 per term to fund new bursaries.  We weren’t at all sure what the take-up would be, but it was a huge pleasure to learn that over 800 Highgate families responded to that first invitation.  If those numbers are maintained in the Lent and Summer terms, we will have raised – or rather, you will have given – £250,000, enough for two new part-funded bursaries starting in Year 3 and going all the way through to Year 13.  A terrific achievement. If we fast-forward to the first Junior School bursary pupils’ days in the sixth form, if giving like this continued, we would have the equivalent of a whole new class of pupils at Highgate on bursaries.  

What’s more, this money has real and immediate effects.  It doesn’t go into the ether or any general fund.  It directly meets the fees for pupils who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come here; new donations mean new bursaries.  One such pupil, who joined us in Year 7 and is now in Year 13, spoke at a recent event for parents.  She explained with candour and affection the impact Highgate has had on her life and her family.  Of course, she talked about the social, academic and co-curricular doors that have been opened for her, introducing a range of university and career options that might not have been available otherwise, but she also reflected on the ceilings of expectation which, she now sees, might have held her back.  Her older brother, also a bursary recipient, spoke at such an event a few years ago.  His message was largely similar, but, as with his sister, I vividly remember his impact on his peers who could not believe the ferocious organization and unflagging energy which characterized this self-starting, ambitious young person who changed the School as much as it changed them.  These are just two examples, but I know that other bursary pupils, and the friends who have been interwoven into their lives, have similarly transformative stories to tell.   

The passion Highgate families feel for good causes makes itself felt at every turn, so it’s hard not to be acutely aware that everyone is choosing to donate to a range of deserving charities in a range of ways: supporting the BPP cannot be at the top of everyone’s list.  We also know that the cost of living crisis is really biting and that, once school fees are taken into account, there may not be much spare.  So, to all of you who have already given to the BPP, thank you!  I know, too, that our wonderful collection of families supports these efforts in so many ways – volunteering time, expertise and so much more, feeling proud of being part of such a community. But if you are able to continue to support the BPP, you can be sure of making a direct and real difference to young people. You’ll also be contributing to Highgate’s habit of doing things, like Chrysalis, like partnering with LAET, like mobilizing giving from across the whole community, innovatively and boldly: it’s one of the things that makes Highgate Highgate: not taking charitable status for granted, but doing everything we can to make it work for those who need it most.  

About the author
Adam Pettitt, Head
Adam has been Head of Highgate since 2006. He was previously Head of Modern Languages at Abingdon School and then Deputy Head at Norwich School. He read French and German at university and continues to teach both subjects to Y9 pupils at Highgate. Beyond work, Adam enjoys running marathons and is a recent convert to inter-railing.