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A Helping Hand from Habs and its Donors

Haberdashers’ Boys’ School and Haberdashers' Girls’ School will award £3.2 million in financial aid to students’ families this year.

Habs Boys and Habs Girls, have committed to awarding a record £3.2 million in financial aid, during the 2021‐22 academic year, to help students whose families could not otherwise afford to send them to the schools.

In all, the families of 161 senior school students across Habs Boys and Habs Girls will receive financial support this year. That is an average of 23 students in every class year.

A total of 84 students are on ‘full bursaries’, meaning their families pay no school fees at all – another record-setting number for the schools. Many of these students also receive support for coach transportation, school lunches, academic trips and music lessons.

The schools aim to award a similar amount during the 2022-23 school year, applications for which have just closed.

Habs said this was part of a long-term strategy to ensure that students are drawn from a wide range of economic, ethnic and social backgrounds, representing the broader society they will join when they leave the schools. The strategy also reflects a commitment to community and philanthropy the schools consider among their core values.  

“We want to attract bright and capable students who would thrive here even if their families have limited financial means,” said Simon Cartmell OBE, chair of the schools’ governing body. “That’s what Habs has always been about.”

The schools trace their origins to a generous legacy left in 1689 by Robert Aske, a former Master of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. His will specified that the funds be used to build an alms house for destitute freemen of the company, and to provide ‘Meat drinke cloathing and Schooling’ for ‘twenty poore Boyes’.

This provision was very strict: If a boy had the good fortune to come into money, he had to leave the school to make way for another whose need was greater.

Nearly 350 years later, Habs has grown tremendously.  The school for 20 ‘poore Boyes’ is now a 1,400-student Boys’ School and a 1,200-student Girls’ School that share a semi-rural 100-acre campus in Elstree, Hertfordshire. They are widely considered among the best schools in the UK.

“Both schools have fantastic teachers, facilities and, of course, students,” said Rose Hardy, headmistress at Habs Girls. “But given our location, there’s a risk of becoming isolated from the communities that surround us.

“One way we aim to prevent that is by building partnerships with neighbouring schools and community organisations,” she added. “Another is by widening access to high-achieving local students whose families couldn’t afford a Habs education without financial assistance.”

When students apply for admission to the schools, their families can apply for means-tested bursaries at the same time. A family’s income, assets and financial obligations are all considered in determining whether they qualify for assistance, and how much. As a guide, though, families this year were eligible for a free place if their total household income was £40,000 or less. Families who earn £85,000 or more are not eligible for financial assistance.

“We know there are many local families who don’t consider Habs because they think they can’t afford it,” said Gus Lock, headmaster at Habs Boys. “We are trying to get the word out locally that if you’re a well-rounded student with a curious mind and a love of learning, Habs might be the place for you, and your family might be eligible for financial support.”

Habs said it aims to help even more families in coming years, and to increase the number of free places the schools can award to those who qualify for financial assistance. To achieve this, however, will require support from the wider Haberdashers community.

A charitable foundation initially established to support the Boys’ School has been expanded to support the Girls’ School as well, and it has been renamed the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Elstree Schools’ Foundation (or Habs Foundation, for short).

A single team has also been appointed to oversee fundraising and alumni relations across both schools. This is a new approach for Habs, whose schools have traditionally operated almost entirely independently of each other.

“The schools have been remarkably generous in helping families who have financial need,” said Bill Friar, the director of development at Habs. Friar was appointed this year to lead the new fundraising and alumni relations effort. “But we know there is still substantial unmet need.

“We have families who make great sacrifices to give their kids a Habs education, and the pandemic has made things even tougher,” he added. “We don’t want parents to have to work two or three jobs to keep their children in school.”

To increase the amount of financial assistance Habs can award, the schools increasingly look to their supporters, including alumni of the two schools (known as ‘Old Haberdashers’), current and former staff, and current and former Habs families with the means and inclination to help through philanthropic gifts.

The schools ran a telephone campaign this autumn during which recent school leavers called alumni and parents to ask if they would like to support one or both of the schools. Families were also given the option to donate their deposit when their child left Habs. This raised more than £91,000 from 175 Old Haberdashers and parents. Nearly all of them gave either for bursaries or for hardship funding to families in crisis.

“It’s been wonderful – but not surprising – to see the generosity of the wider Habs family,” said Roger Llewellyn, the director of the Habs Foundation. Llewellyn is himself an alumnus and donor.

“Our donors come from a wide range of backgrounds, but they tend to have one thing in common,” he added. “They say Habs was the making of them -- or their child -- and they want others to have the same experience.”

Additional support has come from the St Catherine Parents’ Guild, which is the parents’ association representing parents at Habs Girls. Every year the guild hosts a wide range of fundraising events and activities for parents and children at the school.

Traditionally, such organisations use these funds to make improvements to the school facilities or to purchase needed supplies. The guild intends to maintain this aspect to their fundraising but have also considered how they could make a wider impact.

The guild committee voted unanimously this year to award 75% of the funds it raises from now on to the bursary fund. This was endorsed by the parent body.  Even though COVID has severely limited the events the guild can hold, it has already given £31,000 to the fund.

The change in direction was led by Rubia Parvez Noordin, the chair of St Catherine Parents’ Guild. 

“We are a diverse and inclusive community at Habs,” she pointed out, “and we want to support the school’s strategy for becoming even more so.”

Noordin is a Habs parent twice over: one daughter is still at Habs and the other is now studying medicine at University College London.

“We know that a Habs education has the potential to transform lives,” she said, “so if the parents’ guild can help to make that happen for even one child, we will have achieved something truly worthwhile.”

If you would like to support a means-tested bursary for a Habs student, you can make a tax-efficient gift online or by contacting the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Elstree Schools’ Foundation at foundation@habselstree.org.uk . You may choose to support the Boys’ School, the Girls’ School or both schools through the foundation.