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An Introduction to Independent Schools in England

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

If you are looking for an alternative for educating your child than a state school, the options can seem overwhelming. Here is an overview of the different types of independent schools available in England and Wales:


Independent / private schools

There are over 2,600 independent schools in the UK, responsible for educating more than 625,000 pupils. These can range in size from a tiny local school to a large day school. These types of schools receive no funding from the state, instead they rely on tuition fees from parents, gifts and endowments.

Although they can operate outside of regulations set by the government and do not have to follow the National Curriculum, they are obliged to follow standards of education and health and safety. Independent schools which are part of the Independent Schools Council are regularly inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate and some are also inspected by Ofsted (the government educational standards body)

Secondary school age pupils will sit GCSEs and A levels in the same way as state educated pupils.


Prep and pre-prep schools

These are effectively private primary schools, which prepare pupils for entry to

secondary school (including independent secondary and grammar schools). Pre-prep is for age 3 to 7 or 8 and prep is age 7 to 11 or 13.


Boarding Schools

These are independent schools with the option for pupils to stay at the school on a weekly, termly or flexible basis. The advantage of a boarding school comes from the extracurricular activities and superior facilities, thanks to the tuition fees.

Many boarding schools do also offer places for day pupils, who attend during the daytime only.


Public School

The name is misleading here, in that public schools are actually independent boys’ secondary schools. They tend to be boarding schools, with the majority having very expensive fees and selective entrance criteria.


Grammar Schools

These are secondary schools which are funded by the Government but have selective criteria for entry. This includes performance testing, including the 11+ exam in certain geographical areas.


Admissions Process

Each school will have its own admission and selection arrangements, so it is best to check well in advance of when you wish to send your child, especially if you live in London.

If your child is in their early years, the selection process is likely to involve a gentle ‘assessment’ of their readiness for school; focussing on things such as speech and language, and social interaction. It is also likely that you may be informally assessed as a parent, to see whether you ‘fit’ with the overall parent body.

If your child is older, they may be assessed on their English and Maths levels and are often invited to a taster day with their potential classmates.

If you are applying for a secondary school place, in some cases you will need to apply up to three years in advance. If your chosen school admits pupils in Year 9, there may be testing in Year 6 or 7 to determine suitability, with some schools using an 11+ type of exam in English, Maths and Science.


Photo Credit to HJ Photography

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