Private schools have been accused of “virtue signalling” over bursaries as a new analysis has found that the majority go to middle class families. Bursaries do “remarkably little" to make fee-paying institutions more socially inclusive, according to a report presented to the British Sociological Association (BSA). It suggests that private schools are building luxury facilities in an "educational arms race" while providing fee assistance to only minimal numbers of students from low income households. Researchers claimed that private schools "virtue signal with their charitable status" while in reality they serve a "tiny majority of privileged families". The study is based on analysis of data from the Charity Commission and the annual financial accounts of 142 private schools in England. Parents of only 6,118 students - around one percent of all private school students - received a full bursary where 100 per cent of their fees were waived. Meanwhile another two percent of students were awarded bursaries where over 75 per cent of their fees were waived, the report highlights. Dr Malcolm James, head of accounting, economics and finance at Cardiff Metropolitan University and the lead author of the study, said: "Given the levels of fees, the overwhelming majority of scholarship students still require very substantial family contributions. "Many scholarships may, in practice, be awarded to middle- or upper-class families. Scholarships may therefore do little to make schools genuinely more socially inclusive." Researchers found that private schools awarded fee remission totalling just over £1 billion to 176,234 out of their 537,315 students in 2018-19. The findings, presented at the BSA’s virtual annual conference, suggest that only 44 per cent of this - around £440 million - went to help less well-off families with fees. The rest were scholarships for students with sporting or musical talent, or they were discounts for school staff's own children or sibling discounts, the researchers said. As part of the research, Dr James found that scholarships were equivalent to around 5 per cent of schools' income. The paper suggests that private school fees had tripled since the early 1980s, with their total annual capital expenditure rising from £247 million in 1997 to £794 million in 2009, declining to £771 million in 2013. Dr James claimed that schools are using their income to "build ever more substantial and luxurious facilities in an educational arms race designed to attract high-end clientele and to justify high fees". "Any decisions to improve facilities inevitably drives up fees, effectively excluding increasing numbers of potential students," he added. Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said that private schools are “committed” to increasing their intake of pupils from underprivileged families. “The value of means-tested fee assistance provided by schools has increased by over £175 million since 2011 to reach £440 million in 2019 and the sector has proposed a scheme to enable up to 10,000 children from low-income families to attend independent schools every year,” she said. "Schools spend far more on bursaries than on scholarships; in fact, over double the amount is spent on means-tested bursaries compared to scholarships. Bursaries are specifically targeted at those whose financial circumstances merit fee assistance.” Ms Robinson said that means-tested bursary funding is provided to both low and middle-income families, explaining that many schools are “striving to do more to provide places for disadvantaged pupils, but are doing so in an environment where they also need to be mindful of holding down fee increases despite facing growing costs”. She added that schools' accounts are independently audited every year to ensure they are fully compliant, which includes meeting all charity law requirements.