Independent Schools

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.

Reasons for choosing independent schools:

Greater choice

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+.

Good education

Some state schools are giving independent schools a run for their money. But 2016 research on academic added-value compared independent and state schools and showed that independent education:

  • is academically better at ages four, eight, ten and 16
  • accounts for 0.64 of a GCSE grade increase
  • produces higher average scores in all GCSE subjects
  • in certain circumstances, outperforms the best European nations and is level with Japan and South Korea

Good company

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.

Considerations to inform your choice

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.

Choosing a school

  1. The Independent Schools Council is a good starting point. Make a list of preferred schools. View their websites to check admission dates and processes
  2. Check registration dates. Some schools require application several years ahead. School starting ages are usually 2-5, 7, 11, 13 and 16
  3. Do you require boarding or a day-place? Do they offer full boarding (7 days/week), weekly boarding (5-6 days/week) or flexible boarding?
  4. For prep (junior) schools, ask which senior schools the pupils have gone to recently
  5. For senior schools, check recent exam results
  6. Check out the Department for Education’s schools’ performance tables, where you can view all the schools in the country by GCSE scores, Key Stage 4 results, and English Baccalaureate. You can also check the Progress 8 score – which looks at the progress each child makes from the end of primary to the end of secondary school. The Performance Tables site will also give a summary of A-level performance, including value-added (progress made between age 16 and 18)
  7. Less selective schools (academically) will not be at the top of the exam league tables, but they often have excellent value-added scores
  8. Read the school's latest inspection reports on the Independent Schools Inspectorate website
  9. Visit schools that interest you
  10. You can apply to several schools. Especially if schools are selective and have entrance exams, it makes sense to have options. But multiple applications mean your child attending several exams and interviews, possibly adding pressure
  11. Some secondary schools require your child to take the Common Entrance exam at 11 or 13. Others normally require a test in English, Maths and sometimes other subjects, and will interview you both


Wherever they go, a motivated, bright child will succeed – with your support.

  1. How many independent schools are there in the UK?
    1,283 independent schools are registered with the Independent Schools Council. There are a total of around 27,000 schools in the UK so about 5% of schools have independent status
  2. According to statistics published in 2012, how did primary school class sizes compare between state-funded and independent schools?
    The figures were gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and clearly show one of the differences between state and private education!
  3. The Government has placed a limit of no more than 30 pupils in any infant school class. What is the limit on the number of pupils in secondary school classes?
    Even though there is no limit on class size, state secondary school classes have an average of 22 pupils. Independent schools do better again, with many having as few as 14 pupils per class
  4. Research done in 2016 by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University found that an Independent school education is the equivalent of how many extra years at a state school?
    The report compared pupils in England who attended independent schools with those who went to state schools, taking into account differences such as ability and social status. It suggested that an independent school education is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16 in a state school
  5. Some believe that one of the reasons private schools are more successful than state schools is that they have a stricter sense of discipline. Which of the following punishments is permitted in private schools but not in state schools?
    Corporal punishment was outlawed in state schools in 1986 but not in independent schools until 1998. Both types of school are now governed by the same rules on corporal punishment
  6. In 2015, what was the average yearly fee to send a child to a day school?
    With other costs on top of fees, a 14-year private education at a day school costs on average £286,000. Boarding schools averaged £30,369 per year and a 14-year education in one of them costs £468,000!
  7. Some private schools require early registration to secure places for children. At what age should you register your child with Charterhouse School, if you want them to attend from age 13?
    Places at Charterhouse are restricted so registrations for pupils to start in year 9 must be received before they reach year 7. Certain private schools require registration years in advance, though for some a few weeks is enough
  8. In 2015, all GCSE students at 54 schools in England and Wales achieved 5 or more A-C grades including Maths and English. How many of these 54 schools were independent schools?
    Exactly one third of the schools whose pupils did so well in their GCSEs were independent schools. Considering that only one in twenty UK schools are independent, that is not bad going!
  9. To be accepted by most public schools at 13, children must pass Common Entrance exams. Which of the following subjects is NOT a required part of the Common Entrance 13+ exams?
    In addition, English, Maths, Geography and History must also be taken along with one of the sciences and a modern language. At most schools Latin and Classical Greek are not as important
  10. What do 'public,’ ‘private’ and ‘independent’ schools all have in common?
    As they get no funding from the state, public, private and independent schools rely on other sources of income. These are primarily tuition fees but also include bequests, money from fundraising events and gifts


Author: Linda Innes

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