Independent school (United Kingdom)
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An independent school in the United Kingdom is a school relying, for all of its funding, upon private sources, predominantly school fees. In England and Wales the term public school is sometimes used for some of the largest independent schools. Otherwise the term private school is used. It is not, however, normal to refer to schools that are considered to be public schools as "private schools", although they may be called "independent schools" (and frequently now use that term to define themselves).
Some independent schools, particularly the more traditional institutions, also have charitable status. Research shows that UK independent schools receive approximately 100m tax relief due to charitable status whilst returning 300m of fee assistance in public benefit and relieving the maintained sector of 2bn of costs.
There are more than 2,500 independent schools in the UK, educating some 615,000 children, the Telegraph claiming seven per cent of children are educated in private schools throughout the country. Most of the larger independent schools are either full or partial boarding schools.
Independent schools in England
The Independent Schools Council (ISC), through seven affiliated organisations, represents 1,289 schools that together educate over 80% of the pupils in the UK independent sector. Those schools in England which are members of the affiliated organisations of the ISC are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate under a framework agreed between ISC, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Independent Schools not affiliated to the ISC in England and Independent schools accredited to the ISC in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are inspected through the national inspectorates in each country.
Independent schools in Scotland
Independent schools in Scotland educate about 31,000 children. Although many of the Scottish independent schools are members of the ISC they are also represented by the Scottish Independent Schools Council, which is the body recognised by the Scottish Parliament as the body representing independent schools in Scotland. Unlike England all Scottish independent schools are subject to the same regime of inspections by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education as local authority schools and they have to register with the Scottish Executive Education Department.
Most of Scotland's independent schools are in Edinburgh or Glasgow. However, notable schools in the country include Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire, Glenalmond College in Perth and Kinross and Gordonstoun in Elgin.
There are five ancient Scottish 'Academies', all private schools. These are Dollar Academy (1818), Edinburgh Academy (1824), Glasgow Academy (1845), Morrison's Academy (1860) and Kelvinside Academy (1878). With the exception of Glasgow and Morrison's Academies, these schools are all housed in Grecian classical buildings and Edinburgh and Kelvinside Academies share the same Greek motto - ΑΙΕΝ ΑΡΙΣΤΕΥΕΙΝ (Ever to be the best).
See List of independent schools in Scotland for a full list, by county, by cost and by academic results.
Historically, in Scotland, it was common for children destined for independent schools (usually sons of the upper classes) to receive their primary education at a local school. This arose because of Scotland's long tradition of public education, which was spearheaded by the Church of Scotland from the seventeenth century, long before such education was common in England. Independent prep schools only became more widespread in Scotland from the late 19th century (usually attached to an existing secondary independent school, though exceptions such as Cargilfield do exist), though they are still much less prevalent than in England. They are, however, currently gaining in numbers as the quality of state education is perceived to be in decline.
Selection and conditions
Independent schools are entirely free to select their own pupils (subject to the general legislation against various forms of discrimination). Nowadays most schools pay little regard to family connections, apart from siblings currently at the school. Although some credit may be given for musical or sporting promise, the principal forms of selection are academic and financial (parents' ability to pay fees and costs, averaging £19,000 per annum for boarding pupils and £9,000 for day pupils). Some parents make immense sacrifices to be able to send their children to these schools; bursaries are available, but it is still only a minority who can afford to send their children. Educational achievement is excellent. Independent school pupils are four times more likely to attain an A* at GCSE than their state sector counterparts and twice as likely to attain an A grade at A level.. Pastoral care is regarded as excellent. As independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, a wider range of subjects are available for study. In addition, schools invest heavily in sporting, musical and art facilities in order to gain competitive advantage over rival schools.
Some independent schools are highly selective on academic grounds, using the competitive Common Entrance examinations at ages 11-13. Limited scholarships are offered to attract bright pupils, sometimes approaching GCSE standard. Means-tested bursaries (scholarships) to assist the education of the less well-off, a mission which may form the historic basis of the school, are usually awarded to a small minority following a selection process which combines academic and non-academic factors. Pupil teacher ratios are around 9:1. Facilities for dyslexia or for gifted children are common, and other special needs are accommodated at the school's discretion.
Independent schools, as compared with maintained schools, are generally characterised by more individual teaching; longer teaching hours (sometimes including Saturday morning teaching), though shorter terms; more time for organised sports; a broader view of education than that prescribed by the national curriculum, to which state school education is in practice limited; more emphasis on achievement, whether academic, sporting, musical, dramatic or artistic, or otherwise; more availability of traditional academic subjects such as classics, maths and modern foreign languages; and historical buildings and traditions.
Independent schools are able to set their own discipline regime within the national framework of legislation. Consequentially, independent schools have greater freedom to exclude children, primarily with a view to the wider interests of the school: the most usual causes being drug-taking, whether at school or away, or any notorious rejection of the school's values, such as academic dishonesty or violence.
In England and Wales there are no requirements for teaching staff to have Qualified Teacher Status or to be registered with the General Teaching Council. In Scotland a teaching qualification and registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is mandatory for all teaching positions.
In England and Wales a preparatory school, or prep school in current usage, is an independent school designed to prepare a pupil for fee-paying, secondary independent school. The age range is normally eight to eleven or thirteen, although it may include younger pupils as well. An independent school which only caters for under eights is a "pre-prep" and the junior departments of prep schools which cover the first years of schooling are also called "pre-preps".
The Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools(IAPS) is the prep schools heads association serving the top 500+ independent prep schools in the UK and Worldwide. IAPS is one of seven affiliated associations of the Independent Schools Council.
There are 130,000 pupils in over 500 schools of all types and sizes. Prep schools may be for boys or girls only, or may be co-educational. They may be day schools, boarding schools, weekly boarding, flexi-boarding, or a combination. They fall into the following general categories :
- Wholly independent prep schools, both charitable and proprietary.
- Junior schools linked to senior schools.
- Choir schools, which educate child choristers of cathedrals and some other large religious institutions; they all accept non-chorister pupils with the exception of Westminster Abbey Choir School. These schools are usually affiliated to Anglican churches, but may occasionally be associated with Catholic ones such as Westminster Cathedral.
- Schools offering special educational provision or facilities.
- Schools with particular religious affiliations.
Public school in the British Isles is a label sometimes applied to leading fee-charging independent schools in England and Wales which are members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. In Scotland and Ireland it is not commonly used in this sense for schools in those countries (and indeed in Scotland and Northern Ireland the phrase has long been an alternative name for council schools in the state sector). A public school (in the independent sense) usually teaches children from the ages of 11 or 13 (the latter being the traditional age at which boys moved from prep school to public school, although many now move at 11) to 18, and was traditionally a single-sex boarding school, although most now accept day pupils and are coeducational. The majority date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, but several are over 600 years old. Nine old-established schools were regulated by the Public Schools Act 1868. Today nearly all such schools, no matter their history, tend to officially call themselves "independent schools". It is suggested that the origin of the term came from distinguishing such a public institution open to anybody who paid the fees from the education provided by private tutors. The earliest known reference to a "public school" dates from 1364 when the Bishop of Winchester wrote concerning "the public school" at Kingston, which was then part of the diocese of Winchester.
This English usage of the word "public" contrasts with the expectations of many English speakers from around the world. Outside the British Isles people usually refer to fee-paying schools as private schools or independent schools; many would assume that the word "public" should imply public financial support. Indeed, in many countries "public school" is the commonplace name for any government-maintained school where instruction is provided free of charge and attendance may be compulsory up to certain age. In England such a maintained school would commonly be called a state school, a local authority school, or a foundation or community school. Usage in Scotland has its own particular nuances; as in England nowadays, there is a tendency to avoid the phrase "public school" altogether, and to speak of "state schools" or "council schools" on the one hand and "private" or "independent schools" on the other. However, contrary to practice in England, the phrase "public school" is used in official documents (and still sometimes colloquially) to refer to Scottish state-funded schools. When the term is applied informally to independent schools located in Scotland some interpret the usage as an Anglicism or a parody of English usage.
The English usage dates to an era before the development of widespread national state-sponsored education in England and Wales, although Scotland had early universal provision of education through the Church of Scotland dating from the mid 16th century, and the system of education in Scotland remains separate and different from the system covering England and Wales. Some schools (often called " grammar schools") were sponsored by towns or villages or by guilds, others by cathedrals for their choir. "Private schools" were owned and operated by their headmasters, to their own profit or loss, and often in their own houses. "Public schools" often drew students from across the country to board; in the 19th-century golden era of public schools, boys from upper-class families typically began their education with home tutoring or as a day student at a local private school (what would today be called a preparatory school), and then went off to board at a public school once old enough.
The term in England can be traced to the Middle Ages, an era when most education was accomplished by tutoring or monasteries. In later centuries, the landed classes educated their boys at home, with visiting resident tutors, or with the local clergyman -- that is, privately, away from the hurly-burly of the towns. In the 19th century, it became the fashion to send boys to mix with their contemporaries, that is, to be educated publicly. Public schools were independent charities, that started by often offering free education. As time passed, such schools expanded greatly in size to include many fee-paying students alongside a few charitable scholars, until they acquired their upper-class connotations. By the late 19th century, public schools were characterized not so much by the way the schools were governed or the students educated as by a very specific ethos of student life often celebrated or parodied in the novels of the day, the best-known of which is probably Tom Brown's Schooldays.
The head teachers of major British independent boys' and mixed schools belong to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), and a common definition of a public school is any school whose head teacher is a member of the HMC. It is debatable as to whether any girls' school can be considered to be a public school. Public schools are often divided into "major" and "minor" public schools, but these are not official definitions and the inclusion of a school in one or the other group is purely subjective (although a select few would be included in any list of "major" schools). Thus, in E W Hornung's book Raffles Further Adventures (1901), the following exchange takes place: "'Varsity man?" "No." "Public school?" "Yes." "Which one?" I told him, and he sighed relief. "At last! You're the very first I've not had to argue with as to what is and what is not a public school." A similar exchange takes place in " Murder must Advertise" by Dorothy L. Sayers:'"What' would you call a public school, then?" "Eton...and Harrow" "Rugby?" "No no, that's a railway junction!"'
Prior to the Clarendon Commission, a Royal Commission that investigated the public school system in England between 1861 and 1864, there was no clear definition of a public school. The commission investigated nine of the more established schools: two day schools ( Merchant Taylors', London and St Paul's) and seven boarding schools ( Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester). A report published by the commission formed the basis of the Public Schools Act 1868.
Another way of determining the major public schools is to distinguish them by the players allowed to play in the Butterfly Cricket Club which was founded by an old Rugbiean. Only players who came from what were and are considered the major public schools were allowed to play. The schools included Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Marlborough, Oakham, Rugby, Westminster and Winchester.
However, the common perception of public schools is that they pre-date the 20th century and were established as boys-only schools even if they are now coeducational, with distinctive traditions and high academic performance.
Some suggest that only particularly old independent schools should be afforded the dignity of "public school" (see Lists of independent schools in the UK below).
Public Schools Yearbook
The Public Schools Yearbook published in 1889 named the following 25 boarding schools, all in England:
However, it notably omitted the Merchant Taylors' and St Paul's day schools that had been listed in the Act. It also omitted others, including Epsom College and the City of London School, a day school (which derived from a mediæval foundation of 1442) was reconstituted by a private Act of Parliament in 1835 and was held to be a public school by the Divisional Court in the case of Blake v City of London in 1886.
Tom Brown's Universe
J. R. De Symons Honey, writing in 1977, attempted to define which independent schools could be classified as public schools. He shows numerous studies and classifying sytems before settling on the following schools and categories:
Class 1 public schools:
Class 2 public schools:
Interestingly there are no Catholic schools in this list as most were ignored by the fiercely Anglican Victorian society. As a result, schools such as Stonyhurst, Ampleforth and Downside are excluded from the list, despite being considered today amongst the ranks of the other schools listed above.
Other Public Schools
A handful of day schools (non boarding) founded in the 19th century were widely considered to be "major Public schools" by the 20th century due to their reputation and alumni.
These included University College School, founded by University College London in 1830, and which for much of the 19th century had gained infamy in educational circles as the 'Godless school of Gower Street'. However, by 1907, it was important enough for Edward VII, accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury, to open the school's new site in Hampstead.
Similarly, King's College School, founded by George IV in 1829 along with King's College London, quickly became recognised as an important school.
Both schools are now members of the exclusive Eton Group of Independent schools.
Perhaps the best way to tell if a school is a "Grand Public School" in modern times is to check an edition of Who's Who. The headmasters of the most prestigious schools have an entry there by virtue of their position.
Origins of independent schools
Some public schools are particularly old, such as The King's School, Canterbury (founded c.600), Sherborne School (founded c.710, refounded 1550 by Edward VI), Warwick (founded c.914), The King's School, Ely (founded c.970), Bedford School (granted Letters Patent by Edward VI in 1552, though the original school is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085) Westminster (founded 1179 if not before), High School of Dundee (founded 1239), Stamford School (re-endowed in 1532, but in existence as far back as 1309), Eton ( 1440), and Winchester ( 1382), this last of which has maintained the longest unbroken history of any school in England. These were often established for male scholars from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds; however, English law has always regarded education as a charitable end in itself, irrespective of poverty. For instance, the Queen's Scholarships founded at Westminster in 1560, are for "the sons of decay'd gentlemen".
The transformation of free charitable foundations into expensive institutions came about readily: the foundation would only afford minimal facilities, so that further fees might be charged to lodge, clothe and otherwise maintain the scholars, to the private profit of the trustees or headmaster; and also facilities already provided by the charitable foundation for a few scholars could profitably be extended to further paying pupils. (Some schools still keep their foundation scholars in a separate house from other pupils). After a time, such fees would eclipse the original charitable income, and the endowment would naturally become a minor part of the capital benefactions enjoyed by the school. Nowadays there is remarkably little difference between the fees of an ancient public school with magnificent facilities, grounds and endowments, and those of many minor public schools with little capital: effectively the capital and income from former benefactors finance superior facilities, which attract better staff and wealthy parents who may be generous in their turn.
However, some do demand significantly higher fees than others, the most expensive being (in order) Eton, Winchester, Charterhouse, Cranleigh, Harrow, Gordonstoun, Cheltenham Ladies College, Cheltenham College, Dean Close, Bedales, Rugby, Badminton School, and St John's School, Leatherhead.
One school which continues its charitable foundation ethos is Christ's Hospital, a boarding school in Horsham; fees are charged according to the family income (in 2005, about one third of the pupils paid less than £250 per year). Well-off families are discouraged - the number of pupils that pay the full fee (~£15,000) is limited to 6% of the School population. Millfield is a modern foundation with a significant proportion of its pupils on scholarships for those with limited means.
The educational reforms of the nineteenth century were particularly important under first Arnold at Rugby, and Butler and later Kennedy at Shrewsbury, the former emphasising team spirit and muscular Christianity and the latter the importance of scholarship and competitive examinations. Most public schools developed significantly during the 18th and 19th centuries, and came to play an important role in the development of the Victorian social elite. Under a number of forward-looking headmasters leading public schools created a curriculum based heavily on classics and physical activity for boys and young men of the upper and upper middle classes.
They were schools for the gentlemanly elite of Victorian politics, armed forces and colonial government. Often successful businessmen would send their sons to a public school as a mark of participation in the elite. Much of the discipline was in the hands of senior pupils (usually known as prefects), which was not just a means to reduce staffing costs, but was also seen as vital preparation for those pupils' later rôles in public or military service. More recently heads of public schools have been emphasising that senior pupils now play a much reduced role in disciplining.
To an extent, the public school system influenced the school systems of the British empire, and recognisably 'public' schools can be found in many Commonwealth countries.
Associations with the ruling class
The role of public schools in preparing pupils for the gentlemanly elite in the period before World War 2 meant that such education, particularly in its classical focus and social mannerism, became a mark of the ruling class. For three hundred years, the officers and senior administrators of the "empire upon which the sun never set" invariably sent their sons back home to boarding schools for education as English gentlemen, often for uninterrupted periods of a year or more at a time.
The 19th century public school ethos promoted ideas of service to Crown and Empire, understood by the broader public in familiar sentiments such as "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" and "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Ex-pupils often had a nostalgic affection for their old schools and a public school tie could be useful in a career, so an "old boy network" of former pupils became important.
The English public school model influenced the nineteenth century development of Scottish private schools, but a tradition of the gentry sharing primary education with their tenants kept Scotland comparatively egalitarian.
Acceptance of social elitism was set back by the two World Wars, but despite portrayals of the products of public schools as "silly asses" and "toffs" the old "system" at its most pervasive continued well into the 1960s, reflected in contemporary popular fiction such as Len Deighton's The IPCRESS File, with its sub-text of tension between the grammar school educated protagonist and the public school background of his superiors and posh but inept colleague. Postwar social change has however gradually been reflected across Britain's educational system, while at the same time fears of problems with state education have pushed any parents who can afford the fees or qualify for bursaries towards public schools, which now prefer to be known as independent schools.
The political elite of Britain are often products of independent schools. The Labour Party's leaders Clement Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell and Tony Blair were all educated in the private sector despite the Socialist traditions of the Party. The current Conservative leader, David Cameron was educated at Eton, whilst his Shadow Chancellor George Osborne attended St Paul's School.
In 2003 84.5% of senior Judges in England and Wales were educated at independent schools, as surveyed in . This is especially significant considering just 7% of all British children are educated at independent schools.
Oldest independent schools in the UK
Amongst the oldest independent schools in the UK are (chronologically):
Cor Tewdws (College of Theodosius), Llantwit Major (446 - closed down in reign of Henry VIII)
It is not a requirement in the independent sector, as opposed to the state sector, to be a qualified teacher to teach in schools.
The former classics-based curriculum was also criticised for not providing skills in sciences or engineering. It was Martin Wiener's opposition to this tendency which inspired his 1981 polemic "English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850-1980". It became a huge influence on the Thatcher government's opposition to old-school gentlemanly Toryism. This has now been turned on its head. Independent schools provide a disproportionately high number of science, modern foreign language and maths undergraduates.
Some parents complain that their rights and their children’s are compromised by vague and one-sided contracts which allow Heads to use discretionary powers unfairly, such as in expulsion on non-disciplinary matters. They believe independent schools have not embraced the principles of natural justice as adopted by the state sector, and private law as applied to Higher Education.
The exclusivity of independent schools has attracted political antagonism ever since the First World War. Many of the best-known independent schools are prohibitively expensive, although some are based on charitable foundations originally established up to a thousand years ago to provide free education for the talented poor. One third of independent school pupils have assistance with fees. The Thatcher government introduced the Assisted Places Scheme in England and Wales in 1980, whereby the state paid the school fees of those students capable of gaining a place but unable to afford the fees. This was essentially a response to the decision of the previous Labour government in the mid- 1970s to remove government funding of direct-grant grammar schools, most of which then became private schools; some Assisted Places students went to the former direct-grant schools such as Manchester Grammar School. The scheme was terminated by the Labour government in 1997, since then the private sector has moved to increase its own means-tested bursaries. Generally political attacks have been resisted by concern that there should be no totalitarian state control of education, and undoubtedly by influential 'Old Boys' (former pupils) who tend to be fiercely protective of their Old Schools. Pending the enactment of the Charities Bill, which fell at the 2004 general election but has again been passed by the House of Lords in 2005, many independent schools now make a point of sharing their sporting, musical or other facilities with the public or with local state schools, and supplementing their charitable endowments with an increased number of subsidised scholarships and bursaries.
In 2005, students at fee-paying schools made up 43.9% of those selected for places at Oxford University and 38% of those granted places at Cambridge University, although such students made up only 7% of the school population (source: The Times 2 March 2006). Independent schools may give a better education to their more motivated students; their antagonists argue that other children's unfulfilled potential deserves Tertiary Education. The Labour Government has brought financial pressure to bear on the universities to admit a higher proportion of state school applicants than would be obtained simply by their A-level grades and interview performance, on the basis that applicants are academically crammed by an independent school education, and receive an undue advantage from the interview system. Although there is no evidence of discrimination against independent school pupils.