What is an independent school?

04 Jun 2021

What is an independent school?

More than 2000 schools in the UK are independent of local or central government control  and approximately 8% of the school population in UK is educated within these schools. All independent schools must be registered with, and meet certain regulations set by, the DfES (Department for Education and Skills). In Wales the schools are registered with the Welsh Office Education Department-WOED.  Independent Schools are usually funded by fees charged to parents and many are run as charitable trusts under a Board of Governors; a few schools are still privately owned (private schools).

Good independent schools place great emphasis on the development of wider strengths and interests as well as the fulfillment of academic potential.  Exam results are often impressive, but many students also achieve outstanding success in music, sport, art and drama.  Some independent schools are highly academically selective, some specialize in helping children who need more individual attention. Most schools have some sort of entry selection either by examination, interview, current school report or a combination of these.

Types of independent school

Pupils at independent schools may be day or boarding pupils, with many schools having a mixture of day, full boarding and weekly boarding pupils. Schools can be single sex or co-educational.  Some may be single sex from 11-16 years but have a co-educational Sixth Form.  Pupils may attend independent schools from 0 to 19 years of age, (in a few cases older than this) and have varying abilities. Some schools are specialised eg. Choir, Music, Ballet, Dance and Theatre centred schools. Many also have provision to cater for those pupils needing extra help eg. with Dyslexia or indeed gifted pupils who require advanced work. Some schools will be very traditional in outlook and others adopt a more informal ethos eg. No uniform or have a child centred curriculum as seen in the Montessori and Rudolf Steiner schools.

The age of a pupil determines which type of school they should attend.

Nursery                   0 – 3/4 years of age

Pre-Preparatory    3/4 – 7 years of age
Preparatory            8 – 11/13 years of age
Senior                      11/13 – 16/18 years of age

Sixth Form              16 – 18+ years of age

As with state schools the age range of pupils is defined in Year Groups, from Nursery and Kindergarten to Reception and Year 1 through to Year 6 (age 11 years) and to Year 13 (Upper Sixth Form).  Variations in individual schools may be seen eg. Prep 111 or Lower Third.

It is a mistake to think that only rich or privately educated people send their children to independent schools. More than half the pupils entering independent schools today have parents who were educated in the state school system. Pupils come from varying backgrounds and most independent schools offer either scholarships or bursaries. At state boarding schools pupils pay only for boarding costs with the tuition paid for by the government.  At Nursery level many schools accept the Government’s Childcare vouchers.

Advantages of independent education for children include:
• Academic success
• Small classes and a high teacher to pupil ratio
• Traditional values
• A broad based education with opportunities for a wide variety of extra-curricular activities


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For further information on independent or private schools in UK visit our Articles  or Advice for Parents sections, with advice from Headteachers and education experts