UK private and international schools

Alternatives to state-funded education

UK private and international schools

Schools in the UK which are based on a fee-paying system are now often referred to as independent schools as historically, schools such as Eton College began as state-funded institutions but are now only accessible at a cost. In this way, they are sometimes categorised as ‘public’ though this is not the case. 

British independent schools have been known for educating many internationally recognised persons. Institutions such as Eton College and Harrow School have taught important figures such as Prince William, Prince Harry and Winston Churchill. During 2017, 37,5% of students studying at ISC (Independent Schools Council) registered schools were from overseas. Nonetheless, independent schools in Great Britain are not few and far between so choosing the most ‘elite’ is not your only option when selecting educational providers. 

Independent schooling

There are approximately 2,400 independent (private) schools throughout the UK which tutor around 7% of all children living there. Parents may choose to send their children to independent schools if they feel that their local state-funded schools are not sufficient for the learning that they want for their children. Similarly, independent schools are more likely to have smaller classes, a more individualistic style of learning and better quality equipment. This is sometimes a preferred option for those with children who have learning difficulties where some independent schools can better cater to their needs.

Entrance requirements

Entrance into independent schools can vary from school to school. In most situations, pupils will sit a basic entry test upon application to determine their academic talent. However, these entry exams may become more complex the older the pupil applying is. Some children can be granted scholarships though these will only be awarded to those with exceptional talent. You can check on specific schools for their entry process. Similarly, you can find all the UK independent schools via this site .


Independent schools almost always offer boarding. Up to primary school age, education in paid schools will commonly be co-ed (mixed) whereas secondary schools are often single sex. The average cost of fees for independent schools in the United Kingdom is around £10,000 ($12,457) a year per student but can be as much as £14,000 ($17,440) a term, threefold for an academic year. Parents will also often be required to pay an admission fee on top of these costs. 


Independent schools in the United Kingdom are not compelled to abide by the national schooling curriculum and can select their own curriculums, regularly a combination of academic subjects and what is important in ‘the real world’ post education. Independent schooling often allows students the opportunity to study classical subjects which may not be covered in state-funded schools. These are thought to be very valuable to a person's education in the UK such as ancient history, classical civilisation, Latin and Greek. 

Having qualifications from the top independent schools in England is a highly regarded prospect. Those who seek education from these providers are often highly valued in the working world where employers have been known for favoring students graduating from these institutions. For example, those who are alumni from the prestigious Eton College are even referred to as ‘Etonians’ in both the work and education sector. 

International school

Amongst expats relocating to the UK, international schools seem to be the most popular option. Transitioning to an international school from abroad can be a much easier process since such schools will expect students from all corners of the world. Similarly, they may expect pupils to apply at any stage of their education given that many will have moved from other countries. International schools can be a better option for those with children entering the British education system who cannot speak English. They also appeal to those looking to obtain the IB (International Baccalaureate). The majority of international schools are located in the English capital, London. 

The process of applying, paying and boarding does not vary greatly from that of independent schools as above. In this manner, those looking for information on exams, fees and curriculums can look to the websites of specific schools. A list of international schools based in the UK can be found here .

The choice making process of international schools for those looking to move to the United Kingdom or even those abroad looking to board their children there may select a specific school based on what kind of education and qualifications they offer. The International Baccalaureate is a popular preference as it is a more unique style of learning. It allows pupils to work more autonomously with less time spent listening to teachers and more time assigned to subject specific assignments. As in the name, the IB can be recognised in numerous countries worldwide, hence its popularity. 

Further reading

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Other comments

  • Mayves Mohamed, 19 January 2009 Reply


    Hello, I am applying for a private school for my daughter and this info has really helped and guided me. It really makes clear some important basic facts about independent schools.