Choosing a private school

A checklist on what to look for

The following checklist is designed to help you choose an appropriate and reputable private school for your children.

Choosing a private school

When looking for a private school, it is wise to keep in mind factors that may positively or negatively affect your child's education at the chosen educational provider. Below is a checklist comprising of questions to consider when looking for private education in the UK. 

  • Does the school have a good reputation? Does it belong to any recognised body for private schools such as the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools? How long has it been established? Is it financially stable?
  • Do you plan to send your children to a junior or senior private school only, or both?
  • Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of pupils obtain good examina­tion passes or go on to good uni­versities? What subjects do pupils do best in? All schools provide exam pass rate statistics. On the other hand, if your child does not cope well in environments where there is a high level of pressure, choosing schools with a less competitive and driven attitude may be a better fit.
  • What does the curriculum include? Is it a well balanced curriculum or heavily academically focused? Ask to see a typical pupil timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
  • Do you wish to send your children to a single-sex or a co-educational school? 
  • Day or boarding school? If you’re considering a day school, what are the school hours? Does the school provide transport for pupils to and from home? Many schools offer weekly boarding, allowing pupils to return home at weekends.
  • How many children attend the school and what is the average class size? What is the ratio of teachers to pupils? Are pupil numbers increasing or decreasing? Check that class sizes are in fact what it says they are in the prospectus. Has the number of pupils increased dramatically in the last few years?
  • What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is often a bad sign as it usually suggests that teachers are under-paid or treated poorly.
  • What extras are you required to pay? For example, optional lessons (e.g. music, dancing and sports), lunches, art sup­plies, sports equipment, school trips, telephone calls, clothing (most schools have obligatory uniforms, which can be very expensive), insurance, textbooks and stationery. 
  • Is religion an important consideration in your choice of school? Do the school practice a specific religion? Some schools in the UK, particularly primary schools are Catholic or Church of England practicing schools. This can mean that children will have prayers or sing hymns during the day. 
  • Are special English classes provided for children whose English doesn’t meet the required standard? Usually, if a child is under nine years of age, it doesn’t matter if their English is not fluent. However, children over this age aren’t usually accepted unless they can read English fluently (as printed in textbooks for their age). Some schools provide intensive English tuition for foreign students.
  • If you’ve decided on a boarding school, what standard and type of accommodation is provided? What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
  • What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects? Does the school have a language laboratory?
  • What is the student turnover?
  • What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually much longer than state schools, e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in the summer. They often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
  • What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
  • What examinations are set? In which subjects? How do they fit in with future education plans?
  • What sports instruction and facilities are provided?
  • What are the facilities for art and science subjects, for example arts and crafts, music, computer studies (how many computers?), science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography?
  • What medical facilities does the school provide? Is there a school nurse during schooling hours? Is health and accident insurance included in the fees?
  • What sort of discipline and punishments are imposed and are restrictions relaxed as children get older?
  • What reports are provided for parents and how often? How much contact does the school have with parents?
  • Last, but not least, unless under scholarship, what are the fees?

Draw up a shortlist of possible schools and obtain a prospectus from each (some schools provide a video prospectus). If possible, obtain a copy of the school magazine. Before making a final choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers and students.

Where possible, check the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers, look elsewhere. Having made your choice, keep a check on your child’s progress, listen to any complaints and compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether the complaint is founded or not, and if it is, take action to have the problem resolved.

When looking for a private school, it is wise to keep in mind factors that may positively or negatively affect your child's education at the chosen educational provider. Below is a checklist comprising of questions to consider when looking for private education in the UK. 

  • Does the school have a good reputation? Does it belong to any recognised body for private schools such as the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools? How long has it been established? Is it financially stable?
  • Do you plan to send your children to a junior or senior private school only, or both?
  • Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of pupils obtain good examina­tion passes or go on to good uni­versities? What subjects do pupils do best in? All schools provide exam pass rate statistics. On the other hand, if your child does not cope well in environments where there is a high level of pressure, choosing schools with a less competitive and driven attitude may be a better fit.
  • What does the curriculum include? Is it a well balanced curriculum or heavily academically focused? Ask to see a typical pupil timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
  • Do you wish to send your children to a single-sex or a co-educational school? 
  • Day or boarding school? If you’re considering a day school, what are the school hours? Does the school provide transport for pupils to and from home? Many schools offer weekly boarding, allowing pupils to return home at weekends.
  • How many children attend the school and what is the average class size? What is the ratio of teachers to pupils? Are pupil numbers increasing or decreasing? Check that class sizes are in fact what it says they are in the prospectus. Has the number of pupils increased dramatically in the last few years?
  • What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is often a bad sign as it usually suggests that teachers are under-paid or treated poorly.
  • What extras are you required to pay? For example, optional lessons (e.g. music, dancing and sports), lunches, art sup­plies, sports equipment, school trips, telephone calls, clothing (most schools have obligatory uniforms, which can be very expensive), insurance, textbooks and stationery. 
  • Is religion an important consideration in your choice of school? Do the school practice a specific religion? Some schools in the UK, particularly primary schools are Catholic or Church of England practicing schools. This can mean that children will have prayers or sing hymns during the day. 
  • Are special English classes provided for children whose English doesn’t meet the required standard? Usually, if a child is under nine years of age, it doesn’t matter if their English is not fluent. However, children over this age aren’t usually accepted unless they can read English fluently (as printed in textbooks for their age). Some schools provide intensive English tuition for foreign students.
  • If you’ve decided on a boarding school, what standard and type of accommodation is provided? What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
  • What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects? Does the school have a language laboratory?
  • What is the student turnover?
  • What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually much longer than state schools, e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in the summer. They often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
  • What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
  • What examinations are set? In which subjects? How do they fit in with future education plans?
  • What sports instruction and facilities are provided?
  • What are the facilities for art and science subjects, for example arts and crafts, music, computer studies (how many computers?), science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography?
  • What medical facilities does the school provide? Is there a school nurse during schooling hours? Is health and accident insurance included in the fees?
  • What sort of discipline and punishments are imposed and are restrictions relaxed as children get older?
  • What reports are provided for parents and how often? How much contact does the school have with parents?
  • Last, but not least, unless under scholarship, what are the fees?

Draw up a shortlist of possible schools and obtain a prospectus from each (some schools provide a video prospectus). If possible, obtain a copy of the school magazine. Before making a final choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers and students.

Where possible, check the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers, look elsewhere. Having made your choice, keep a check on your child’s progress, listen to any complaints and compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether the complaint is founded or not, and if it is, take action to have the problem resolved.

Further reading

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