Joe has just started at a famous and highly competitive independent senior school. His parents were absolutely delighted that he not only won a place, but was awarded a triple scholarship: Academic, Sport and Music. Joe is one of the nicest boys I know and certainly deserves these accolades: he is highly intelligent; a fine sportsman and when he plays the cello it makes me want to cry (in a good way!). He and his family spent the summer in a fever of expectation about the new school and so I was looking forward to hearing how he was getting on.
“It’s not good news” his mother Sue said on the phone, “Joe can’t keep up with all the extra work he has to do, now that he’s a scholar. He’s getting so depressed; he’s even talking about leaving the school. ”
It seems that Joe and his parents failed to appreciate how much work being a scholar entailed: he is required to submit a detailed extended essay every half term to his Headmaster; he is expected to attend every meeting of the academic society; he also has to go to early morning rugby training whilst somehow fitting in orchestra and choir practises. There isn’t enough of Joe to go round.
“However hard Joe tries, he can’t keep everyone happy. He is utterly exhausted. I think his routine school work is suffering. We feel demoralised. What shall we do?”
Joe is not alone in his experience and whilst the teething troubles can usually be ironed out for students (I told Sue to make an emergency appointment with Joe’s tutor to discuss his timetable and if that didn’t work she should go straight to the Head) it is worth making sure that you know what winning a scholarship involves – BEFORE even applying. Equally important is making sure staff at the school know the pressure your child is under. Find out who is in charge of the overview, as teachers in individual departments, sport, music, drama etc are famous for not talking to each other!
In my book “Prepare your Daughter for Boarding” I discuss the benefits and disadvantages of scholarships and exhibitions. Firstly, many of the awards are only worth between 5% and 20% of the annual fees and often the financial reward is capped at the first scholarship. Thus the advantage that being a scholar confers is in the honour – and that can wear a little thin.
Of course this is not to say that if you have a particular talent you should not apply for a scholarship. Schools vary enormously in what they expect from scholars and in what support they offer – but multiple awards can be difficult to live with.
It is also a mistake to think that you cannot continue with a particular discipline unless you have been given a special award. One mother told me only yesterday,
“My daughter is good at acting, but she’s decided not to apply for a drama scholarship. She wants to keep her options open. She will definitely do some acting, but doesn’t want the pressure of being in every single play.”
Her views are echoed by a senior member of staff who told me that,
“Unless your child is very passionate about their chosen discipline, there is something to be said for keeping your options open. Scholarships can be a fantastic way to develop an existing talent, but they can also define a child very early on and prevent them from trying everything else on offer.”
Indeed, some students don’t even discover what they are good at until they actually arrive at senior school. It is not unusual for the scholars to find they have been overtaken by classmates who have developed since arriving at school. It is not always the scholars who come out on top.