What makes a successful bursary scheme?

What makes a successful bursary scheme? And how do leaders know whether a school’s programme is working as well as it can for all stakeholders? ImpactEd Evaluation and IDPE were delighted to be joined for a roundtable discussion in February on these topics by Development Directors and those overseeing bursaries from 13 independent schools, who generously gave their time to share their expertise and experience.

At ImpactEd Evaluation, we know that bursary provision is a key focus for schools, and in turn their development activities, and as the independent sector looks to further understand and communicate their impact. This roundtable was our first step in collating and sharing best practice with the wider sector and will form the basis and structure of a future Bursaries Impact Framework.

So what did we find out? Firstly, schools are aligned on their aims for bursaries: ensuring the school community reflects the wider community, the mutual benefit to all of a diverse school community, the encouragement of social mobility - all received unanimous agreement.

Leaders then spoke openly about the many ways that their bursaries are currently evaluated. All had evaluations in place, but the nature and extent of those evaluations varied. Some schools had robust social emotional surveys to measure changes in, for example, wellbeing, curiosity, and drive, over time; one participant described these as the “skills behind academic performance”.

Others were more focused on comparing bursary pupils’ academic performance itself. One school leader even shared how they measure the effect of bursaries on the families of bursary pupils, whilst another tracked bursary pupil’s involvement in extracurricular activities during their time at school. The commitment to evaluate really shone through - however, I was struck by how differently schools were working in this area.

Another area that highlighted the variety in approach of schools, was how any reporting of impact of bursaries was shared. Some schools shared detailed data with organisations or individuals who may have funded the bursary, others preferred to invite those stakeholders into schools to see the work that pupils had done. Academic performance of pupils, as well as their school reports, were regularly shared as well - but certainly there wasn’t a consensus or any uniformity in the way this was done.

In terms of the barriers that schools face when evaluating bursary impact, the cost, time and available expertise were common themes- as was the difficulty in isolating the specific impact of the bursary (rather than the many other influences in a pupil’s life). Another barrier was deciding on what specifically to measure with the limited resources that a school may have - is it attainment, the promotion of social or emotional skills, or a pupil’s destination (both in education and, ultimately, employment)? Do schools aim to measure all of those areas of impact, and, if so, how do they deal with the challenge of matching multiple data sources? And how would a school do that, whilst ensuring issues of potential anonymity and dignity of all pupils is maintained?

ImpactEd Evaluation and IDPE’s upcoming framework aims to support schools with the scale of the challenge outlined above. It will include:

• Proposed impact measurement tools to capture the impact of bursaries on recipients and the wider school community,

• Supporting resources to help schools in evaluating bursaries.

• Expert guidance on analysing and reporting on bursary data.

The roundtable gave us an excellent insight into some examples of the practice in the sector for this document, and we’d like to again thank all participants for their contributions at the event.

Participants spoke about how philanthropy has changed – schools are required to be more strategic to both improve bursary programmes by evaluating impact and unlock investment by demonstrating impact. We hope that our upcoming framework will assist schools with both.

We expect our Bursary Impact Framework to be published in May – please click here to stay in touch with us about this project. If you would like to hear how ImpactEd Evaluation may be able to support with impact evaluation at your school before that, please email us at

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