Expert advice on choosing the best school for a budding sports star. By Eleanor Doughty

If your child has a sporty side, how do you find a school that will really help them make the most of that? And how good is good enough to qualify for a scholarship or bursary? Our experts are on hand to explain.

The Panel:

Nic Bond,
Director of Sport,
St Edward’s School, Oxford

Katy Hudson,
Director of Sport, Benenden School 

Russell McCluskey,
Head of Sport, King’s College

Phil Greenaway,
Director of Sport, Dulwich College

St Edward’s Oxford Ladies eight

1. Is there a minimum standard of achievement needed to keep financial aid? Our sports awards aren’t linked to bursaries and are worth £1,000 per annum. All sports awards applicants take an additional cognitive abilities pre-test. This ensures candidates, however talented in their field, will be able to access the academic opportunities and be comfortable academically. Parents sign a document confirming their child will take a full part in the life of the school, and continue to demonstrate effort and progress to the satisfaction of the director of sport. Everything stays in place as long as the child doesn’t take their foot off the pedal academically – you can’t just play sport until the cows come home. Nic Bond

2. If my child gets injured, what specialist care are they entitled to? We have a physio clinic one night a week after school, and a well-resourced medical centre on site where we have multiple medical professionals, including paramedics. We are looking at how we can expand the physio element, as ‘pre-hab’, rather than rehab. Identifying something before it happens is so vitally important. Russell McCluskey

3. What contact do you have with Sport England to support further opportunities? We have a lot of coaches who work with Sport England who will come in and support us, and some of our part-time coaches also work with Sport England to develop further links. We like to keep an eye on the initiatives run by UK Sport. Katy Hudson

4. What commitments must they make back? Just as with any other student we expect them to work hard, and we expect them to be great people, first and foremost. We expect them to learn lessons when they haven’t got it right and be a good member of the community. Phil Greenaway

A Dulwich College team

5. Can a sports scholarship lead to a professional career? Very much so. We give pupils everything we can in pursuit of this and we get professionals in to talk about their pathways. Strength and conditioning is prominent, and we have got a wonderful facility for that. We also try through our fixture schedule to get academies from local teams to come and watch games, where they can then approach the pupils about joining their set-ups. Russell McCluskey

6. Can parents ever expect 100 per cent fee reduction? Yes, absolutely. About 15 per cent of those we provide financial support to receive 70 per cent fee reduction or more. Some pupils will receive 100 per cent fee reduction and for some this might include books, equipment, and trips with the school that are part of their academic growth. Nic Bond

7. Do you have specialist physios for specialists who may play a lot? We don’t have specific physios available for, say, cricketers or hockey players. All the boys are referred on to the physio service. That’s why the multi-sport philosophy is good – it’s not about the sport itself that they’re playing, but we want them to live really active lives. Phil Greenaway 

8. What standard do you expect to be considered for a sports scholarship or bursary? We are looking for talented sportspeople who have a great attitude and who are interested in developing themselves – they will make our best sports scholars, ultimately. Attitude is as important as aptitude, and often it’s the attitude that decides how far they get. Katy Hudson 

Kings’ College Wimbledon 1st XV rugby team against Caterham School

9. Are sports scholars also eligible for other awards – for example, music? Pupils can hold a sport and academic scholarship together, but not a sport and music scholarship together. This is because music and sport scholars need to make a particular commitment to that area. Russell McCluskey

10. Will a scholarship cover the cost of kit and equipment? No, it’s not something that we cover. Phil Greenaway

11. Do you encourage sports scholars to try new sports?
We expect our sports scholars to have the flexibility to try new sports. We play a lot of lacrosse at Benenden and a number of our sports scholars who come in at Year 9 haven’t played before, and they pick it up quickly. We’re big believers in trying new sports and giving the girls a taste
of different things – like volleyball or football. Katy Hudson

12. What pastoral support and advice is there for sports scholars? Our pupils meet with members of the sports department on a bi-weekly basis to check in, and so we can ensure that they are managing their load adequately. This doesn’t just look at sport within school but addresses the load on award-holders from an external sports point of view, too. We also have a mentor system where senior pupils are linked with younger pupils: they meet on a termly basis to chat through any problems, and ask any questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking a member of staff. We get in speakers and put on workshops for pupils, and we have a psychologist that comes in to do group work so pupils can book private sessions if they wish. Nic Bond

Agility training at Benenden School

Top Tips

We don’t look for specialisation – we look for somebody who will give rugby a go, and play tennis, cricket, and basketball. We assess them on intangibles – those traits you look for in your best sportspeople: teamwork, communication, sportsmanship. Russell McCluskey

I encourage parents to look at the school that is right for their child rather than the finance on offer. Don’t get hung up on sports scholarships – it’s hard to predict at 11 or 13. We are in danger of over-professionalising sport for pupils in schools. Phil Greenaway

Applying for a sports scholarship can be difficult, as athletes change so much during the years they’re trying. Don’t worry if you go through the process and you don’t get the outcome you want. It doesn’t mean your child won’t get lots of support, and end up being a brilliant sportsperson. Katy Hudson

Sometimes parents and pupils think having a sports award might pin you to one area, but we ensure pupils enjoy a range of activities, so sports awards holders sing, dance and play musical instruments too. Nic Bond

See our online listings here: St Edward’s School, Benenden School, Kings’ College School, Dulwich College