Are you considering a private (independent) school for your child's secondary education?
There are around 1,500 private senior schools in the UK, including approximately 500 boarding schools. With plenty of choice for a high-quality education, it can be challenging to know where to begin your school search – but we're here to help.
Keep reading to find out more about:
The 100 highest-performing private schools in England
The difference between 'private' and 'public' schools
Fees and financial assistance at the top 10 senior schools
How to help your child prepare for entry to the nation's best private schools
Private schools, known more commonly in the education industry as independent schools, are fee-paying. This means that unlike state schools (which are funded by the government and free to attend), you'll need to pay a fee directly to your child's school. Fees are normally paid three times a year, in termly instalments.
The fees for private senior schools can range between £4,000–£8,000 per term for day pupils, and up to approximately £15,000 per term for boarding pupils – although this can significantly vary between schools and regions. As these schools receive more private funding, they are usually able to offer better facilities and a wider range of extracurricular activities (e.g. in sports, creative arts and outdoor pursuits) for their students.
The majority of private schools in England are able to offer financial assistance. The most common type of assistance, known as a bursary, is means-tested and usually available to children who pass the entrance process and whose parents would not otherwise be able to afford the school fees. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents over 1,300 of the best-ranked UK and international schools, a total of £464 million per year is currently offered in fee assistance in the form of bursaries and scholarships.
Private schools do not necessarily accept pupils purely based on academic criteria. However, the best private schools in the country are all academically-selective, with high competition for places.
As the terms private and public have entirely opposite meanings, it can be confusing when you hear some private schools being referred to as ‘public schools’.
In the UK, ‘public school’ is an archaic term used for an elite group of fee-paying schools. The term first emerged in the 18th century when a small group of well-established boys’ schools distinguished themselves from the spread of grammar schools (which were free) by charging fees. These schools were Eton College, Shrewsbury School, Harrow School, Charterhouse School, Rugby School, Westminster School and Winchester College.
‘Public school’ is now considered an outdated term in the UK, with fee-paying schools now typically referred to as ‘private schools’ or independent schools’.
UK private schools are renowned for having smaller class sizes than their state school counterparts. While state schools will often have around 30-32 pupils in a class, private schools have a much lower pupil-to-teacher ratio.
In Key Stage 3 (Year 7 to 9), there are around 20 (normally no more than 25) pupils per class in UK private schools. As pupils move from year to year, class sizes tend to become smaller as a result of ‘streaming’ (setting classes based on academic ability) and more subject choices to choose from at GCSE and A level. Sixth form classes are typically much smaller, with around 8 to 15 students in a class.
The list below ranks independent senior schools based on their A level results (or equivalent) and GCSE results in 2022.
Girls | A level: 99.5% A*–B | GCSE: 97.9% A*/A/9/8/7
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Boys & girls | A level: 92.8% A*–B | GCSE: 90.4% A*/A/9/8/7
St Paul’s Girls’ School, located in Hammersmith, West London, is often top of the list in The Sunday Times Parent Power’s top independent schools. The girls’ day school was founded in 1904 to complement St Paul’s School (the boys’ counterpart), which was founded in the 16th century.
Students are known as ‘Paulinas’. There are approximately 20 students per class in the Lower School at St Paul’s Girls’ School.
The 2022–23 school fees at SPGS are £9,624 per term (or £9,960 for new Year 12 students). St Paul’s Girls’ School offers music scholarships for 11 plus applicants and has a means-tested bursary programme which may be available to families with a total gross household income of less than £110k.
How to apply to St Paul's Girls' School
St Paul’s School is a boys’ independent day and boarding school located on a 43-acre site in Barnes, West London. It was founded in 1509 by John Colet, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. Boys at St Paul’s School are known as ‘Paulines’.
The 2022–23 fees at St Paul's School range from £7,324–£9,162 per term for day pupils, and £13,788 for boarders. Bursaries between 20% and 100% may be available for families whose combined household income is less than £120,000. St Paul’s School also offers academic scholarships of a small financial value and music scholarships, which include free tuition on up to two instruments.
How to apply to St Paul's School
King’s College School Wimbledon is a prestigious boys’ day school situated on the edge of Wimbledon Common in South West London. Girls are accepted into the sixth form. The school was founded by royal charter in 1829 as the junior department of King’s College London on the Strand, before moving to Wimbledon in 1897.
The current fees at KCS Wimbledon are £7,310 per term for boys in Years 7 and 8, and £8,085 for students in Year 9 and above. King’s College School Wimbledon offers entrance bursaries of up to 100% tuition fees to eligible families as well as academic, music and sports scholarships.
The Godolphin and Latymer School is a private day school in Hammersmith, West London, for girls aged 11–18. It was named the Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Year in 2020, and the Sunday Times IB (International Baccalaureate) School of the Year for 2023.
The current fees at Godolphin and Latymer are £8,395 per term. The school offers means-tested financial bursaries from 10% to 100% of school fees, including fully funded places, for 11 plus and 16 plus applicants. Children applying for entry in Year 7 can also apply for a music scholarship, which carries 30% fee remission and free music lessons for one or two instruments.
Founded in 1888, Guildford High School offers an independent day education to approximately 1,000 girls aged 7-18. The Sunday Times named it the ‘South East Independent Secondary School of the Decade’ in 2021.
Guildford High School’s fees for 2022–23 are £6,405 per term. The school offers a sibling discount of 5% (and 10% for subsequent daughters) and means-tested bursaries to eligible families. Academic and music scholarships are also available based on assessment and can be worth up to 5% off the school fees.
This comprehensive guide covers all you need to know about:
Choosing a British school for your child
The application process
Visa requirements and practical considerations
Preparing for entrance assessments
Sevenoaks School is an independent day and boarding school for over 1,000 boys and girls in Sevenoaks, Kent. Founded in 1432 by William Sevenoke, it is the second oldest non-denominational school in the UK. It has twice been named The Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Year.
There are generally no more than 20 pupils per class in the main school, and around 10 students per class in the sixth form.
The standard fees at Sevenoaks School are £8,907 per term for day pupils and £14,307 per term for boarders. At least five free places are available to successful day applicants in Years 7 and 9 for families with a gross annual income of less than £40,000. Additional funding may be available for successful day applicants whose families have a gross annual income of £100,000 or less.
How to apply to Sevenoaks School
Westminster School is an independent day and boarding school for boys (and girls in the sixth form) located in Little Dean’s Yard in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, City of Westminster. About half of the students go on to Oxbridge, giving Westminster School the highest national Oxbridge acceptance rate. Class sizes at Westminster School rarely exceed 22.
The current fees at Westminster School range from £10,488 to £11,463 per term for day pupils, and £15,144 to £15,447 for boarding pupils. A bursary programme is in place, with approximately £1.4m of support available to pupils across the Under School (prep) and Great School (senior). Academic and music scholarships are also available.
How to apply to Westminster School
Tonbridge School is a private day and boarding school, founded in 1553, located on a 150-acre site in Kent. It offers day and boarding education for boys aged 13 to 18 and is one of the very few public schools that has not become co-educational. The school's extensive list of notable former pupils includes novelists EM Forster and Vikram Seth, and scientists Normal Heatley (OBE) and Derek Barton (Nobel Prize Winner).
The current fees at Tonbridge School are £11,689 per term for day pupils and £15,580 for boarding pupils. Foundation Awards (means-tested bursaries) can provide up to 100% fee-remission (the most financial assistance is available for families with a combined annual income of less than £70,000). Scholarships are available at 13 plus entry (academic; art; design, technology and engineering; drama; music; and sport) and mostly carry an annual award of £2,000.
How to apply to Tonbridge School
Brighton College is a co-educational day and boarding school with three sites in the East Sussex seaside town: Brighton College Nursery & Pre-Prep School, Brighton College Prep School and Brighton College. It has been awarded the title of ‘United Kingdom School of the Decade’ by The Sunday Times.
Class sizes at Brighton College are normally around 15 to 18 pupils.
The 2022–23 fees at Brighton College operate on a sliding scale of £6,830 per term for day pupils in Year 7 to £9,420 per term for boarding pupils in Year 13. Boarding is available from Year 9 and costs between £12,960 to £15,570 per term for UK residents (or £18,250 to £19,230 per term for overseas residents). Brighton College has means-tested bursaries available for day pupils who are eligible. A range of scholarships is also available.
How to apply to Brighton College
North London Collegiate School is an independent day school for girls aged 4–18. It was founded in 1850 by Frances Buss – a pioneer in girls’ education – as the first girls’ school in the UK to offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys. It occupies a Georgian mansion on a 30-acre site in Edgware, North West London.
The 2022–23 fees at North London Collegiate School are £7,436 per term. Means-tested bursaries of up to 100% fee remission are available for 11 plus and 16 plus candidates, with approximately 9% of pupils currently receiving means-tested support. Music scholarships (known as Handel Music Scholarships) provide an annual financial award that is equivalent to the cost of individual music lessons in two instruments (worth approximately £1,590).
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