Left scratching your head about the difference between public school, private school and independent school? And where on earth prep schools and boarding schools fit into the picture? Fear not – our at a glance guide will set you straight:
- Public schools: historically, the most exclusive – and expensive – of boys’ private (mainly boarding) schools, eg Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Formerly the realm of the upper classes, who are now (with fees topping £30K) joined by offspring of moneyed entrepreneurs, business people and internationals. Now often co-ed, attended by boys and girls aged 13 to 18.
- Boarding schools: schools with facilities for pupils to have a home from home on a termly, weekly or flexible basis, often offering superb facilities and a multitude of extracurricular activities. NB most now include a large proportion of day pupils and some are funded by the state.
- Independent schools and private schools: essentially the same thing, ranging from grand public schools and highly selective day schools to tiny local ones and everything in between. The common denominator is that they have no state funding but rely on tuition fees, gifts and endowments.
- Prep and pre-prep schools: preparatory/pre-preparatory schools – essentially independent primary schools for children aged 3 to 7/8 (pre-preps), or aged 7 to 11/13 (preps). They prepare pupils for entry to mainly independent secondary schools of all types. Read more...
Independent Schools further reading
As their name suggests, the main aim of ‘preparatory schools’, or prep schools, is to prepare children for entry to fee-paying senior schools at 11 or 13. Traditionally, pre-preps take children from 3 or 4 and prepare them for moving on to preps at 7 or 8. There are fewer stand-alone pre-preps than there used to be as their main market, the boarding prep, has declined in numbers.
You want an independent school education for your children but can’t afford the fees? These days, independent education - especially if you have more than one child - is out of the financial reach of most people. Fees have rocketed in relation to salaries and inflation, and families whose children have traditionally boarded for generations are now looking for cheaper alternatives.
While state schools are prohibited from interviewing any but potential sixth form students, the interview is an integral part of nearly every private school admissions process, and tends to send the applicant’s parents, rather than the actual applicant, into a spin. Parents feel considerably more responsible for their child’s social presentation than for his or her ability to do long division or conjugate French verbs.
They may not truly reflect day-to-day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak up the atmosphere. They are your chance to have the upper hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Do visit more than one school: it’s useful to compare and contrast.
If you’re reading this you’ve probably already decided that boarding might suit your son or daughter. If so the next step is to consider the arrangement that best suits your family. Unlike the old days, when youngsters were packed off to school at the age of 7 or 8 and didn’t see home again until the end of term, today’s boarding schools offer parents a choice of full boarding, weekly boarding, flexi boarding or even a combination of these. For instance, flexi boarders may wish to weekly board during exam times or become full boarders in the sixth form.