A top independent school is to give more bright youngsters from poorer backgrounds a top-flight education with financial backing from former pupils. Education Correspondent Kat Keogh reports.
From an early age, Jayne Ruisi knew her son Roberto was a bright spark.
An academic all-rounder with a prodigious talent for music, Roberto – or Robbie, as he is known to his family – had potential in spades.
When it came to finding the right secondary school for her son, Mrs Ruisi set her sights high, putting Robbie forward for the entrance exam at King Edward’s School (KES) in Edgbaston.
The mother-of-three was confident in her youngest son’s abilities to pass the exam, but was worried the £10,000-a year fees for the prestigious boys’ school would put too much of a strain on the family finances.
“I’m a part-time teacher, and I suppose people would think we would be in a position to afford a private education, but that isn’t always the case for families,” said Mrs Ruisi, who lives in Edgbaston.
“I have two older sons who are both training to become classical musicians, and we have to help them.
“We felt that KES had so much to offer, academically and with opportunities like the orchestra, and it was clear that this would be a place to nurture him.”
Luckily for the Ruisi family, help was at hand, as KES runs an assisted places scheme, where talented students from less well-off backgrounds receive financial help
Places on the scheme are awarded to successful candidates whose parents could not otherwise afford to send their son to the school, and there are currently 35 Year 7 boys on an assisted place. This is around a quarter of the year group, and is one the highest proportion of any independent school in the country.
The scheme has been revised in recent years to ensure a wider spectrum of families could benefit from the scheme, with annual household incomes of up to £71,000 considered for help with fees.
Funding for assisted places comes from the King Edward VI Foundation, as well as organisations and former pupils who directly fund pupils through the school.
HSBC announced this week it would also be funding four 16+ places at the school over the next three years.
For the school’s chief master John Claughton, himself a former pupil, the scheme is about the school doing its “civic duty” for the city.
Mr Claughton said: “If Birmingham is to prosper in this global world, it will need to provide the brightest boys and girls with the chance to make very best of their gifts.
“In the future, such talent will be priceless. Opportunity for these boys is particularly precious when so many of them come from different ethnic backgrounds.
"If anyone has a chance in an economy where China and India are likely to dominate, it will be these boys with international family histories and the best education.”
A total of £2 million has been raised for the assisted places scheme over the past two years, including a telephone campaign where £300,000 was raised in just three weeks.
The scheme has proved so successful that the school was handed the Independent School Award for outstanding fundraising initiative last month, and the school hopes to maintain, and eventually, increase the number of students on assisted places.
Mr Claughton said a recent email from a former assisted places student, who is now studying at Cambridge, showed just how important the scheme is.
He said: “We want the brightest boys to come to this school, whatever their background.
“The raising of funds for assisted places is central to this. If we can get the brightest boys here we can give them a life-changing opportunity, and that opportunity will help not only them, but this city.
"I also believe strongly, as the email from the boy shows, that boys of ability thrive in the company of each other, in a school where it is cool to be clever and hard-working, where boys can find kindred spirits.”
Robbie Ruisi is now in Year 11 at KES, after his fees were funded through a music scholarship and the assisted places fund.
The 15-year-old is living up to his early promise, after the talented violinist earlier this term became the youngest ever leader of the National Youth Orchestra.
Mrs Ruisi said: “Once they get through the school gate, every boy is treated the same.
“There is a real mix of pupils there, but they all share that common aim of doing their best. The way for children to improve their lot is through education.”
Around 35 places are available to boys applying for entry to King Edward’s School in September 2012, and the application for deadlines is December 6.
*For more information, visit www.kes.org.uk