By Atom | Jun 28, 2023, 8:51 AM
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 in 2023
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.
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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 2023.
Girls | A level: 97.4% A*–B | GCSE: 99% A*/A/9/8/7
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Boys & girls | A level: 89% A*–B | GCSE: 85.2% 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 2023–24 school fees at SPGS are £9,982 per term (or £10,732 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 £140k.
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 2023–24 are £6,949 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.
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 2023–24 fees at St Paul's School range from £7,910–£9,895 per term for day pupils, and £14,891 for boarders. Bursaries between 20% and 100% may be available for families whose combined household income is less than £126,000. 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.
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 2023–24 fees at North London Collegiate School are £7,994 per term. Means-tested bursaries of up to 100% fee remission are available for 11 plus and 16 plus candidates. 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 £2,050).
City of London School for Girls is an independent day school for girls aged 7–18 in the heart of Central London. The school describes itself as 'intellectually edgy, unassuming and unpretentious'. A unique coaching programme supports girls to become confident young women by developing inner strength, social and emotional intelligence, positivity and integrity.
The 2023–24 fees at City of London School for Girls are £7,926 per term. A capped number of means-tested bursaries (usually 12–15 at 11+ entry) is available. The school also offers 11+ music scholarships (worth up to £1,500 per year) and 16+ music, drama, art and sport scholarships.
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
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 £12,490 per term for day pupils and £16,648 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 most carry an annual award of £2,000.
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 £7,805 per term for boys in Years 7 and 8, and £8,630 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.
Magdalen College School (MCS) is a private day school in Oxford, founded in 1480, for boys aged 7–18 and girls aged 16–18. Students consistently achieve excellent exam results, and 25% of pupils gain offers for Oxford and Cambridge universities. The school is also committed to widening its education to children from all backgrounds, with 10% of students on bursaries.
The current senior school fees at MCS are £7,259 per term. Means-tested bursaries of up to 100% are available to children applying at 11+, 13+ or 16+ entry. The school also offers scholarships (worth £200 per year) and exhibitions (£150 per year).
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 2023–24 fees at Westminster School range from £11,433 to £12,495 per term for day pupils, and £16,506 per term or 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.
King Edward VI High School for Girls is an independent day school in Edgbaston for girls aged 11–18. It's one of the country's leading girls' schools with a longstanding reputation for academic achievement. The _Sunday Times _ recently rated the school number one in the West Midlands.
The fees at King Edward VI High School for Girls in 2023–24 are £5,538 per term. Means-tested assisted places are available for children applying for entry at 11+ and 16+. These are offered on a sliding scale, where families with an income of below £20,000 pay no fees and some level of assistance is available for families with an income of up to £72,000. The school also offers academic and music scholarships which usually represent a fee reduction of 5–10%.
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