The Independent Schools Council states that more than 500,000 children in the UK were attending independent schools in 2015 - the highest numbers since records started, forty years ago.
The school your child goes to will be one of the main influences on their future life, affecting their friendships, qualifications and career prospects. This guide will help you to find a school that’s right for your child’s needs.
‘Public,’ ‘private’, ‘independent’ or ‘fee-paying’ schools all refer to similar schools – those not in the state system.
The term ‘public school’ is generally used for the much older, traditional and (originally) boys’ private boarding schools – such as Eton and Harrow. Otherwise, the terms are interchangeable.
Preparatory or ‘Prep’ schools are schools for 8-13 year olds, some of which have infants/nursery schools attached for younger children.
You can choose any private school you want your child to attend – as long as your child gets through their selection policies, and you can afford the fees. You can also choose whether your child is a boarder or day-pupil.
Good teacher: pupil ratio
Class sizes vary between different independent schools, but they are usually much smaller than state school classes, giving an attractive staff:pupil ratio. This means each child gets more personal attention and assistance from the teachers.
Recently, births have increased every year (except 2009), creating a greater demand for school places. At the same time, there has been a reduction in the number of primary schools. This means competition for places and larger class sizes.
The average class in a state primary can top 30. Many private school classes tend to be half that. However, the recession has hit everyone, so classes in some independent schools reach 28+.
One of the reasons for people choosing an independent school is the connections their child will make.
A selective school with exams and interviews will choose bright, motivated children focused on learning and achievement. Aware that their parents pay more for their education, most children are determined to work hard.
Many people choose schools that parents and siblings have attended, as a family tradition; but there are other things to bear in mind.
Having decided on independent schooling – choose the best school for your child.
Will the ethos and curriculum suit your child?
Many – but certainly not all – independent schools focus on high academic achievement. This improves their league table scores and attracts more parents and higher fees. Some schools pride themselves on harsh discipline, others on easy-going freedom or kindness and citizenship.
A child who is more sensitive, artistic, sporty or less academic could be unhappy in the pressurised, ‘hothouse’ atmosphere of an elite private school. If so, make sure you find a school with a broader or more relevant curriculum, supportive pastoral care, or good social and emotional education.
All private schools must be registered with the Government and are inspected regularly. However, they are not required to follow the national curriculum. If you would rather your child did, then check school policies before you apply.
Private schools are often housed in beautiful buildings and, when funds permit, are well-maintained. An in-demand private school might have a state-of-the-art theatre; high-tech science laboratories; purpose-built music rooms... whereas others may struggle with outmoded facilities, equipment and upkeep. Pay any potential schools a visit, and see for yourself.
Does your child have a passion/talent for activities like swimming or dance? Select a school that caters for their interests.
What can you afford? Private school fees average more than £15,500 per year. Remember to account for all the extras – uniform, travel, school trips and educational holidays, equipment, musical instruments... the list goes on!
Many independent schools provide bursaries or even full scholarships. These may be offered based on parental income, catchment area, entry examination score or other factors. Find out if your child is eligible.
Wherever they go, a motivated, bright child will succeed – with your support.