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The school is funded by a separate charity, the Christ's Hospital Foundation, which handles donations (in return for the cost of a year's fees benefactors can become 'donation governors' and select a child to go through the school) and legacies.After centuries of gifts, from investments to property holdings, the school has a £200 million endowment.

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'My mum's main motivation for applying was to get us all away,' she said.

Blakely is the oldest of four, two of whom also went to the school (and now her two half-siblings are in the process of applying).

'Those that can afford to pay full fees and send their children to us do so because we're different and they like that difference,' Franklin said.

Sonya and James Macleans from Surrey were delighted when they found they could send their 12-year-old son, Ben, to James's old school – James had been on a full scholarship, but now is a director of his own business.

'I never really liked going home because it was so up and down, but I knew where I was at school.

I would have happily stayed there in the holidays if I could.' For many such as Blakely the school and its staff are a substitute family.

The coffers grew over the centuries with gifts of money, land and property including regular payments from London's livery companies, 20 of which still sponsor children through the school.

In 1902 Christ's Hospital moved from its original site in London to a 1,000-acre site in Horsham, West Sussex, but the biggest change came in 2008, when for the first time full-fee-paying students were accepted from day one.

When Franklin started in 2007 three per cent of pupils were paying full fees, but only 'by accident', as their parents' financial situations had improved while they were at the school.

The number of full-fee-payers has fluctuated over the years – in the 1980s there were about 15 per cent, all of whom had originally been on bursaries.

Franklin, a softly spoken Australian whose large office is decorated with students' artwork, says one story that still haunts him concerns a 15-year-old pupil who went home in the holiday to find his mother dead in their flat. 'The first person he called was his house master.' Franklin came to Christ's Hospital five years ago, via headships at Marlborough and Ardingly College, and inherited a school running at a deficit.

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