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Private School Wellington CollegeIt used to be the case that only the upper crust and the very wealthy sent their children to private schools. Nowadays more than half the children entering the private sector have parents who are first time buyers.

What can they expect? 

The private school journey

Private Schools (generally known as Independent Schools because of their freedom to operate outside of government regulations) are favoured by many parents, not just because of their social standing and 'old-boy' network but because, on the whole, their academic standards tend to be better than state schools and extra-curricular activities more plentiful and varied.

Public Schools - Private Schools - Independent Schools - Fee-paying Schools

The terms are, for the most part, used interchangeably. In the UK, Public Schools is a somewhat archaic term for the oldest and greatest of the boys' private secondary schools: Eton, Winchester, Harrow without doubt, then Rugby, Radley, Marlborough, Shrewsbury, Charterhouse etc in distinctly arguable order. An essentially snobbish and sexist term that Lord Peter Wimsey wrestles amusingly with in Murder must Advertise. Public School is gradually being abandoned in favour of 'Independent School'. The original public schools were so named because they were open to members of the public (who could afford the fees) rather than private schools, whose membership was closed. 

School Finance and fees

Fees at independent schools vary. Old, established boarding schools will charge more than £30,000 per year. However, small day schools, for younger children, may charge only a couple of thousand per term.  

When enquiring about fees ask what is included and what is extra. Extras can add a considerable chunk to the bill. If you have more than one child you may qualify for a sibling discount.  Even if no discount is advertise, a school may be willing to do a deal - or offer a bursary. If you have a gifted, talented or especially able child - enquire about scholarships. Most scholarships are worth very little in monetary terms but many schools are happy to top up with a bursary for those in financial need. 

Ages and stages

Those educated wholly in the private sector will typically attend nursery between the ages of 0 and 4; pre-prep from 4 to 8 and prep school from age 8 to 11 (or 13); followed by senior school through to age 18. 

Selection - a two-way process

  • Most independent senior schools use the Common Entrance exam to assess whether the proposed girl (usually at age 11) or boy/co-ed ( at age 13) will be able to meet the academic requirements of the institution.
  • Common entrance is not really a pass/fail exam - a good deal of fine tuning takes place to ensure that children only sit CE for schools where the pass mark is closely aligned to the mark the child is likely to get (some schools require 55% at CE others as high as 70%). As a result some oversubscribed schools use pre-testing to try to ensure those who sit common entrance for their school will pass.
  • It is not just for the school to be selective though – choosing the right private school for your child is of paramount importance, and should be a subjective judgement.  
  • Consider the head - is s/he a good leader? What do staff, pupils and other parents think of the head - how are they perceived within the local community?
  • What is the atmosphere and environment like, green and pleasant or urban and edgy? Is the school looked after and cared for - is there plenty of space? If not - does it matter? Do the children seem well cared for and purposeful, do they look you in the eye?
  • What are the academic expectations and can you see your child fitting in? Look at the end product - is that you want of your child?  Do they stretch the brightest, help those who struggle? How? Find out how many leave before the end point and why? 
  • Is there plenty going on outside of the classroom? Are activities, varied and inclusive? What about trips and tours? Sports, music, dance, drama, hobbies?
  • What is the pastoral care like, how does it work, what happens when things go wrong? Ask for examples - are the answers what you would hope for? 
  • Who does the school suit? What type of child fits in, who might struggle? 
  • Does the school feel right? If it doesn't it probably isn't. If you are unsure, visit on a different day and at a different time. Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make  - a good school should set your child in good stead, selecting the wrong one can leave you picking-up the pieces well beyond the end of their school years.  Investing time/money to make sure all is well, before you sign on the dotted, will reap dividends later. 

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