Putting children at the heart of scholarships

Scholarships are a prized asset of private schools and are traditionally seen as an extra financial resource for parents. Tony Leggett, bursar at St. Joseph’s College, Reading, explains why his school has changed its scholarship scheme to create a distinctly child-centric version and offers top tips on re-modelling scholarship programmes

372053996335123.F66C5icjoivy2Jzj7Nuz_height640Helping talent to flourish

Whether a child is a talented goalkeeper, a gifted violinist or a natural at maths, a scholarship is designed to encourage the development of their skill. This ethos was the key driver of the changes we wanted to make. St Joseph’s has created a new scheme in which pupils with a particular ability, or range of abilities, are nominated by staff for an annual award, which is presented in the form of a prize.

One of the key elements of the new scheme is that scholarship pupils are given £100 per scholarship awarded to spend on their chosen pursuits – be that a new piece of sporting equipment, an addition to their historical literacy collection or tickets for the theatre. What we have found by putting money in the hands of the children themselves is that they are encouraged to take greater responsibility for nurturing their talent and really think about making purchases that will support their ongoing achievement.

New directions

The traditional scholarship model is, typically, based on just one aspect of a child’s portfolio of abilities but they may take different pathways as they learn and grow and move through the school. Now that we award scholarships on an annual basis we are much better placed to support our students’ talents as they evolve. In addition to this, by extending our scholarship scheme to Year 6 pupils, the school can encourage children to discover new links with music, drama, sport or art before they embark on their secondary education and encourage them to embrace and develop their skills as they move up through the school.

A Year 6 pupil might come to us dreaming of a career on the stage, for example, and then discover they have a gift is for creative writing. The key is to identify and reward pupils of all ages who will make the most of their scholarships and to do this it’s important to have a system in place which allows the school to keep track of a child’s attainment and effort in their schoolwork and their extra-curricular pursuits; the tools in our management information system from SIMS Independent help us to do this.

Opening doors

It’s an important responsibility for any school to help its pupils to take their area of expertise to the next level and we have found effective ways of supporting this. St Joseph’s Scholars’ Society organises events, activities and opportunities to help those with a scholarship award to further their talents; these might include a trip to an art exhibition or tickets to an international sporting fixture. We also invite guest speakers, musicians and artists to school so that the children can see where their talents may lead in the future.

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Pupils with outstanding gifts and abilities can go a long way towards inspiring all pupils to aim for excellence, so we take an inclusive approach and open the Scholars’ Society activities to every child who is interested; in this way, we can encourage all our young people to try something new and to strive hard to achieve.

The essential role of an effective scholarship scheme is to promote exceptional ability and also to encourage pupils to embrace their interests and invest time and effort in developing them. A truly rounded individual is made up of many jigsaw pieces and getting the support they need to discover how these all fit together is key to helping a child open the doors to a successful, fulfilling and happy future.

Tony’s five top tips for remodelling a scholarship scheme

  1. Know your pupils. For teachers and senior leaders to select the pupils who will benefit the most from a scholarship scheme you will need to keep a close eye on their achievements and monitor the hard work they are putting into the subject areas that interest them.
  2. Make the scholarship award appealing. Giving a child the means to further their pursuits is a good idea because it helps them to value their strengths and make decisions about how they would like to develop them.
  3. Keep the momentum going. Consider an annual award as this can give pupils something to aim for every year. Also, if they are not successful one year, they are encouraged to try to achieve an award in the next.
  4. Secure the commitment of staff. The success of a scholarship scheme depends on the enthusiasm of teachers and senior leaders. Our staff devote much time to selecting pupils for scholarships and they have a focus on ensuring that the events and activities they organise for scholars are appealing and worthwhile.
  5. Inspire all pupils. Seeing scholars working hard to achieve their goals – and being rewarded for this – is a great way to encourage all pupils to strive for excellence.

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