What used to be known (rather misleadingly) as public schools are now more accurately described as independent schools. However, they are all registered with the UK Government (and would be prosecuted if they were not) and are regularly inspected at the direction of the Department for Education. Most of them are overseen by their own board of governors or trustees, and the regulatory standards are high.
Independent schools can be large (up to 2,400 students) or small (as few as 300). Some are academically selective, some are not; some are day schools, some are boarding (offering a number of options, eg full, weekly or flexi).
The choice of subjects taught at independent schools is one of the most attractive factors for parents – and their children. They usually offer a much wider range than the national curriculum taught at state schools (on which the GCSE and A Levels exams are based). Additional subjects can include a number of modern foreign languages; Latin and Greek; Drama, Music and History of Art; Business, Economics, and Computer Science; Politics and International Relations, Philosophy and Theology. Some independent schools also offer sixth form students the chance to study for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme as an alternative to A Levels.
Another attraction is the small class sizes and the ratio of staff to students. A top academic school in the independent sector will employ not only specialist teachers but individual tutors to ensure students’ high performance. Students will gain the confidence and ambition to attend the universities or enter the careers of their choice, supported by a well-staffed Careers Department. They are expected to work hard but they will have a great deal of support.
Independent schools typically offer outstanding facilities. Whether it’s in a city, town or the countryside; parents can expect a wide range of sports with professional coaches for each, as well as specialist equipment and dedicated areas; music and drama (including practice and performance space); state of the art classrooms, labs and technology; comfortable modern boarding houses.
Co-curricular – previously known as extra-curricular – is an important element of any independent school that promises an ‘all round’ education. No longer an add-on, it is regarded as an integral part of school life. It’s where art, drama and sport go beyond the timetable, where volunteering and community action is carried out and where specialist societies flourish.
Students are encouraged to try lots of activities, which is also an opportunity to meet people outside their own year group. The school day is often longer than in a state school, with some independent schools offering lessons on a Saturday morning.
All independent schools charge fees, with varied levels of expense. It is always worth discussing with individual schools what is available in terms of financial support – from a scholarship through to 100 per cent fee remission. One in 13 students at an independent school is on some form of means-tested bursary.
Independent schools take pastoral care very seriously. In the last ten years they have been pioneers in understanding teenage mental health and recognising the importance of wellbeing, of getting the balance right between teaching leadership and resilience, and encouraging kindness and tolerance.
What you can be sure of at an independent school is individual attention for your child. Their time there will also be an opportunity for them to broaden their horizons – in the people they meet, the experiences they have, the pursuits they are encouraged to try, and the highest standard of education and care they will receive.