What’s the difference between Private, Independent and Public schools?

It’s often difficult to pick apart the differences between private, independent and public schools – they overlap and terms are used interchangeably by parents and teachers on a regular basis. Private schools are any schools that are financed independently (as opposed to those which are funded by the state). For this reason, both independent and public schools are in fact private schools – however, there are subtle differences.

The distinction stems from how schools are managed. Independent schools are all overseen by a board of governors (or trustees), whereas private schools may be run without a governing body or trust – simply by an owner. Public schools are independent schools (usually boarding) that are particularly traditional and academically selective. They get their name from their historical purpose – to prepare students for Oxbridge to benefit the ‘public’ sector!

All three school types are the same in that they charge fees for attendance and have the independence to operate outside of governmental regulations. They are still, however, regularly inspected and kept to the highest of standards; they are also required to prepare students for the same qualifications (GCSEs/IBs/ALevels) as state schools.

What are Prep Schools?

Prep schools can be understood as selective fee-paying primary schools, with the purpose of preparing pupils for entry into private secondary schools. Pupils usually attend from the age of 3 – with new attendees being fed at age 7 or 8. These students are then taught with the aim of being fully prepared for the 11+ or 13+ examinations.


How do I apply to Private Schools?

Although there is no standard model for applying to UK private schools (each school sets its own admissions policy), there are a common set of steps you will be required to take when applying:


Step 1: Registration

All private schools will require you to register your child for consideration. To complete this registration, you will need to pay a non-refundable fee of up to £300 before your child can be considered for entry. It is important you register your child as early as possible for your prospective schools before their list of applicants becomes full. For registration dates and important deadlines for London private schools click here (link coming soon).


Step 2: Entrance Examinations

The vast majority of private schools require applicants to sit an entrance exam. The exams will usually consist of Maths, English and Verbal/Non-Verbal Reasoning papers. These examinations are either written by the schools themselves or a standard test from the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) is used; these are known as the Common Entrance Exam. These exams are highly competitive and for this reason can be extremely challenging. It is vital that your child scores highly in these exams if they are to be considered for entry into the schools of their choice.


Step 3: The Interview

Despite state schools being prohibited from interviewing prospective students, interviewing is a crucial part of the admissions process for private schools. If your child passes their entrance exams, they will be invited to the school for an interview where a member of staff will try to gain insight into their character. Schools are looking for students who are capable, teachable, polite and a good fit for the school community.

If these three steps go as planned, then hopefully your child will be offered a place at one or more of the schools you applied to. You now need to pick the place you most want and prepare your child for entry into their new school!

Schools list for 7+, 8+, 9+, 10+, 11+ and 13+

To help you plan and prepare your child’s education, we have created an easy to read table with the entrance exams each school participates in.