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Independent education in the UK is world-renowned, both for its academic offering and the often extensive extra-curricular activities on offer. However, with this renown can come a hefty price tag beyond the reach of a lot of parents.

While a third of children in independent schools in England now receive some kind of financial help, the amount of assistance offered can range greatly; from nominal one off payments, to 100 per cent of fees.

If your child has a particular talent, be it academic, musical or sporting, they could win a scholarship, which can then be topped up with a bursary if you qualify for assistance.

For the musically (or dance) gifted, the Government runs a scheme that provides grants and help with fees at eight independent schools and 21 centres for specialist training. Chetham’s School, Manchester, Purcell School, Hertfordshire and Wells Cathedral School, Somerset are just three of the schools featured on the scheme.

Grants are means tested; at Chetham’s, for example, 90 per cent of students receive up to full funding through the Department for Education, while at Purcell School, parents earning less than £30,000 per year will only be required to pay £1,758 for full boarding.

However, many other schools offer some form of assistance for those with musical talents.

Today, the experts discuss music scholarships. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (details below).

Question: Is my daughter eligible for a music scholarship?

My daughter is a talented musician on both the piano and clarinet. She is keen to progress to a secondary school that will nurture those talents. I feel that the independent sector would be more suited to her needs but my partner and I would struggle with fees. How common are music based scholarships? How do I find out about them? And how competitive are they (what standard will my daughter have to be at)?

Paul Smith: Remember, bursaries and scholarships are not necessarily mutually exclusive

The best way to find out whether your local independent school offers scholarships is to check the admissions page of their website. Alternatively, look at the Independent Schools Council website (isc.co.uk) which has a ‘For parents’ page with a link to ‘fee assistance’ to identify those schools that offer scholarships.

The majority of HMC schools, for example, will offer music scholarships for pupils seeking entry at 11-plus, 13-plus and 16-plus, depending upon whether they are 11-18 or 13-18 schools.

Each school will publish its own criteria and applicants are invited to audition. Some schools offer pre-auditions, an informal process by which the parents and school can assess whether the child’s talent and potential merits a formal application.

The criteria for scholarships will vary, but at 11-plus a standard of Grade 5 of the Associated Board in one or two instruments would not be unusual. At older ages, the standard required will obviously be greater and many schools will be looking for distinctions at Grade 5 and above.

“The criteria for scholarships will vary, but at 11-plus a standard of Grade 5 of the Associated Board in one or two instruments would not be unusual.” Paul Smith

The assessment will also vary depending upon the school, but applicants can expect to be required to play contrasting pieces of music on each instrument offered. They can also expect to be tested in sight reading and aural work.

Music scholarships of 10-20 per cent off school fees are common, with the possibility of free music lessons. It is worth noting, however, that most independent schools offer higher discounts on fees though their means-tested bursaries.

These bursaries are targeted specifically at families who may not otherwise be able to afford the fees, and over 40 per cent of bursary pupils have more than half their fees remitted.

Bursaries and scholarships are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so if fee assistance is a key factor do not rely upon scholarships alone and seek further information from schools about bursaries on offer.

Finally, the English and Scottish governments offer the most exceptional musicians means- tested awards up to full fees to attend one of the five independent day and boarding specialist music schools (musicanddanceschools.com). Good luck!

Paul Smith, headmaster, Hereford Cathedral School

Susan Hamlyn: It’s better to achieve a grade 5 with distinction than rush into a higher grade

How lovely to have a musician in the family. Of course, she must have every opportunity to develop her talents and enthusiasm. All good sized independent schools will offer individual instrumental lessons – these are often free to music scholars – but also bands, orchestras, choirs and ensembles of many kinds to give her plenty of chance to play and learn.

Most independent schools offer music scholarships but the proportion of the fees they cover varies greatly. It is rare for a music scholarship to be worth less than 10 per cent of the overall fee. It is equally rare for it to cover more than 50 per cent, although, if your daughter is also academically bright, she could, perhaps apply for an academic scholarship as well?

If your family income is not high, you might also qualify for some bursarial help. Many families with talented children but without spare funds negotiate a scholarship topped up by a bursary. These are assessed annually but that is well worth the trouble if it gives your daughter the musical education she needs.

“Many families with talented children but without spare funds negotiate a scholarship topped up by a bursary.”

Susan Hamlyn

Inevitably, music scholarships are very competitive – especially in academically selective schools and schools with a high reputation for music. There will be auditions on top of the usual interviews but what most music depts are looking for is innate musicality rather than a string of grades – although exam grades with credits/ distinctions will also be welcome, of course.

It is probably better to achieve a grade 5 with distinction than rush your daughter into a higher grade which she might only pass.

Much may, I’m afraid, depend on luck. If your daughter’s year has an applicant or two with truly outstanding talents then there will, of course, be pressure on the scholarships. On the other hand, such children are likely to apply to several schools and can, in the end, only accept a place at one of them.

Sadly, girls’ schools usually have less money for this kind of thing than the longer-established boys’ or coed schools.

Finally, The Good Schools Guide website will tell you what a given school has to offer in terms of fee assistance. But if you are starting from scratch and don’t know which schools to look up, we have a unique Scholarships and Bursaries Service which allows us to trawl through what is available at 700 independent schools.

Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service

Vivienne Durham: If your daughter is exceptionally talented, you should consider specialist schools

Congratulations on having a musically talented daughter. Not only will you have the pleasure of listening to your daughter perform, some experts believe that children who learn to read music and play a musical instrument have stronger academic attainment than their non-musical peers.

Being a member of an orchestra (or choir) will help your daughter make new friends in her next school, too.

Schools often indicate on the admissions area of their websites the music scholarships and awards that are available. The financial value of such music awards will vary considerably.

Some schools will offer musical tuition rather than remission of fees, for example. Do check with the school bursary department whether you would be eligible for a bursary to assist with school fees, in addition to any music scholarship your daughter might be awarded.

Both HMC (hmc.org.uk) and GSA (gsa.uk.com). offer information about financial assistance, including music scholarships, in independent senior schools. If your daughter is exceptionally talented, you might want to consider specialist music schools (gov.uk/music-dance-scheme).

Music-based scholarships in major schools can be very competitive. Some schools will stipulate the minimum grade required for music scholarship applicants in either voice or one or more instruments – or both.

“Schools often indicate on the admissions area of their websites the music scholarships and awards that are available.” Vivienne Durham

Do contact a school to confirm whether there is any such minimum grade requirement, if it is not stated. Your daughter will almost certainly be required to attend a music scholarship audition, which will involve the performance of one or more prepared pieces on her chosen instrument(s) and often the sight reading of an unseen piece of music, too.

In academically selective state and independent schools, your daughter will normally need to pass the entrance examinations in order to gain a place, before music scholarships are awarded.

Some state schools – and many independent schools – will offer a plethora of opportunities for nurturing your daughter’s musical talent. In addition to the main school choirs and orchestras, you will find school jazz bands, string and wind ensembles and many opportunities for your daughter to perform in concerts.

Independent schools often offer the opportunity for musically talented pupils to go on choir tours or orchestral trips.

You might also want to ask potential schools about the curricular provision for music. How many lessons per week are allocated to music in the Year 7- 9 timetable? Is music set by ability or not? How many students take GCSE music? Does the school offer A level Music and/or A level Music Technology? Good luck!

Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park

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