Choosing an independent school

05 May 2011

As a parent you know your child better than anyone else, their interests, varying abilities and their individual needs.  Choosing an independent school for them should satisfy these criteria and so provide the basis for a happy and successful school life.  You will need to be realistic about your child’s potential and consider their overall personality.

Although a particular school may seem suitable on paper, a personal visit is the only way in which to guage if it is in fact the best place for your child.

Single sex or co-educational?

You as a parent know your child better than anyone else. Would he/she thrive in a single sex environment or enjoy the challenges and variety of opinions available with both boys and girls learning together? Many independent schools have a co-educational system in their pre-preparatory, preparatory and Sixth Form departments but prefer that their Senior school remains single sex. Some schools believe in a co-educational system from nursery to sixth form. Others remain single sex from 7/8 years of age or earlier through to age 18. Boarding schools can be co-educational or single sex. This decision is a personal preference based on the characteristics and personality of your child.

Day or Boarding?

The vast majority of pupils in independent education are day pupils and most boarding schools will also admit day pupils. Weekly or flexible boarding is now available in many schools.
Boarding will not of course suit all children but for some it may be a necessity. Where parents are working abroad or are in the Armed Forces and will be stationed in many different locations throughout the child’s school life a boarding school provides stability.

Life in a boarding school today is very different to the stereotypical boarding school of forty years ago and parents should visit schools to see how they provide for boarders today if this is a possible choice.

Special talents?

Some children have an outstanding ability in either music, dance or acting. There are special independent schools which provide extra tuition in these alongside the traditional school subjects. For a list of these please contact us on

Religious Affiliation?

Some parents would prefer their children to be educated in a school sympathetic with their own religious beliefs eg. Roman Catholic, Quaker, Methodist or Muslim. However most schools welcome pupils from many faiths and promote tolerance and understanding of all denominations within their spiritual ethos.
Parents wishing to find schools of a particular faith can contact us on

Special needs

Many schools will provide extra help and support during lessons where needed.  Some schools have Learning Support Departments and some have specialized centres for a particular need eg Dyslexia.

The academic needs of your child are a priority.  Being realistic about your child’s potential is key.  A highly academic school will not be the right choice for many children.  Consider too your child’s music, performing and sporting interests and abilities.  The size of a school too may have an impact, some children will thrive in a large, bustling and vibrant community whereas others will be much happier and flourish within smaller classes and a more individual approach to learning.

Visiting a possible school is vitally important before reaching a decision.

The  questions listed below  may help when choosing an independent school

Is the school in an urban or rural area?
Is the school set in an attractive environment?
Are the air/rail/bus/road links good?
Is the surrounding area pleasant?
How large are the school grounds?
Were you made to feel welcome?
Did you like the Headmaster/Headmistress?
Is the atmosphere friendly/orderly/happy?
Are the pupils well-mannered/smart?
Are the classrooms and communal areas bright/clean?
Are the school achievements/pupils work displayed?
Do the buildings and grounds appear well maintained?
Are the Boarding Houses clean/bright/well equipped – is the atmosphere friendly?
Who runs the school – Board of Governors/Church/State Assisted/Private ownership?
How many pupils are there/what proportion boys to girls?
Average class teaching size?
If Boarding how many pupils per House, what age groups?
Do the Staff have relevant teaching qualifications?
What are school hours/do they work on Saturdays?
Is there an Entrance Examination and if so when is it held?
Do they award Scholarship/Exhibitions? What % of fees do these cover and for how long?
Do they follow the national curriculum or another?
What courses do they offer for GCSE and ‘A’ Level?
Do they offer International Baccalaureate/IGCSEs?
Is there provision for Learning Support – dyslexia etc. or gifted children?
What are the school grounds like – areas for play/relaxation?
What are the school facilities like for:-
Does the school have its own transport?
What are the Dining areas like, is the food varied, do they cater for special diets?
Is Before or After School Care provided?
Are the Boarding Houses close to Main School?
Does each House have a common room for relaxation?
Are the Dormitories/Rooms clean and bright?
Do they have en-suite facilities?
How many pupils share a room?
Do they have laundry facilities?
Is there opportunity for Self-Catering?
Are pets allowed?
Who are the Houseparents?
What extra curricula activities are on offer:-
Learning a musical instrument?
Additional sports – fencing/equestrian/rowing/archery?
After school clubs – drama/art ?
Scouts/Guides/DofE/CCF ?
Do they organise school trips in the UK and overseas i.e. Skiing/language exchanges?
If Boarding, are weekend trips/planned activities organised?
If Boarding, are special events such as birthdays celebrated?
is there a School Uniform policy?
Are pupils allowed to leave school during normal school hours?
If Boarding what is policy for free time?
If Boarding are parents able to visit freely at weekends?
Does the school have a policy of rules and regulations covering all aspects of school life?
If boarding, how often are pupils allowed home during term time?
Is English language tested for overseas pupils?
Are extra English lessons offered ?
Is there a Guardianship policy?
Are pupils collected from the airport on arrival?
Can pupils visit friends’s families during Exeats/Holidays ?
Are the fees within your price range?
Are there hidden costs eg. Laundry, lunches, trips, insurance, drama or music lessons?
Can fees be paid monthly?
Is there a discount if fees are paid in advance?
How often will the fees increase?
Are there comments about the school from previous pupils/parents?
Is there a recent inspection report available for the school?



Choosing an independent school

choosing an independent or private school

For further information on choosing an independent school visit our Articles  or Advice for Parents sections, with advice from Headteachers and education experts