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Building a school bursary strategy using stories and metrics

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

The importance of both personal stories from bursary recipients and quantitative impact metrics was a central theme of the School Bursaries Conference 2020.

We heard powerful messages through both stories and metrics: Bursaries at independent schools have a transformative impact on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their families. They also have a positive impact on social mobility, especially when combined with state/independent school partnerships.

It got me thinking: when a school is developing a bursary strategy, at what point should school leaders use emotion-based personal stories and when should they turn to logic-based impact metrics?

As I considered this question echoes of Bryony Thomas’ ‘Logic Sandwich’ approach sprung to mind. Bryony proposes that in the early stages of any marketing activity emotion is the best way to generate awareness of and interest in an idea. As people move through the evaluation and trial stages they need logical information to inform decision-making. Finally, as people move into the adoption and loyalty stages emotion becomes important again to reinforce commitment to the decision.

So I propose three stages in balancing emotional stories and logical metrics as a school develops its bursary strategy.

1. Generating awareness: Personal stories

When a school is first thinking about starting or significantly growing a bursary programme it’s often the personal stories that catch the attention of heads, governors and staff.

This is all about grabbing their attention, demonstrating that increasing numbers of independent schools like theirs are offering 100% or 110% bursaries, and building awareness that bursaries have a positive impact on school communities as well as individual recipients.

At this point the early-advocates for bursaries in a school can use, of course with full permission and appropriate anonymity, the personal stories of bursary recipients from across the independent school sector to generate awareness and interest amongst colleagues.

2. Strengthening evaluation: Impact metrics

When a school is getting into the details of what a bursary strategy might look like for them it’s the impact metrics that help school leaders understand what’s working best. This is the logical, evidence-based decision-making stage.

A comprehensive bursary strategy needs to answer a whole raft of questions. All of these answers should be based on the evidence available on the impact of bursaries on pupils and schools. For example:

  • What is your medium and long-term vision for bursaries at your school? What is driving this vision? What sticking points might hold you back and how will you overcome them?

  • How many bursaries will you offer and in which year groups will you accept new entrants?

  • How will the bursaries be funded? How will you balance funds from fundraising, endowment and fees income?

  • How will you balance scholarships and transformational bursaries?

  • How will you reach potential applicants?

  • How will you structure the means-testing process and what will be the income eligibility cut-off?

  • How will you structure the application process so it is easy to navigate without knowledge of the independent school system?

  • What pastoral assistance will you put in place?

  • How will you measure the impact of bursaries at your school?

Here it's critical that impact metrics are used to inform the development of a bursary strategy which is tailored to the unique nature of each school.

3. Building loyalty: Personal stories

Once the bursary strategy is approved by senior leaders and governors, personal stories come back to the fore in building loyalty across the school community. To start with these might be stories from other schools, but as soon as possible schools should start collecting anonymous quotations about the positive impact of their bursaries. You’re starting the cycle again here: creating awareness and interest across your school community by connecting them emotionally with bursaries.

Personal stories will inspire donors to step forward and support bursaries. They will help recruit and retain staff who feel the school reflects their personal values of transforming young people through education. They will help parents understand why a percentage of fee income is being spent on bursaries. They will authentically connect your school to its local community. It’s the stories that will inspire others to help you build a bursary programme over time.

In cases where these supporters are themselves evaluating significant decisions they may also want to understand the impact metrics both for the sector as a whole and for the individual school. For example, when a prospective donor is considering a major gift they often want logical metrics as well as emotional stories.

So personal stories and impact metrics each play a critical but different role in creating and delivering a robust bursary strategy. Each needs to be placed centre-stage at the right point in the strategy development process. This will ensure the message of the transformative impact of bursaries on pupils, school communities and social mobility will be heard loud and clear.

My thanks to HMC, IDPE and AGBIS for hosting the School Bursaries Conference 2020 and peppering it throughout with both stories and metrics which showcase how bursaries transform the lives of young people.

Next steps?

I always welcome feedback - debate and conversation sparks innovation! Contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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If you'd like some support developing your school's bursary strategy then contact me to schedule a call.

Juliet Corbett is an experienced strategy consultant working with schools and fundraisers to help them achieve their vision faster.


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