Public and State School

There are hundreds of public schools in the United Kingdom. They range from a handful of ancient and illustrious schools such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester down to tiny schools that are not well-known and have poor facilities.

Superb public schools have cachet, a marvellous educational system, good sports coaching and a thriving cultural life. Such schools imbue girls and boys with self-belief and enable them to make lifelong friendships with future leaders from around the world.

The better public schools are usually part of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses Conference (HMC). HMC has an annual meeting for the heads of all its member schools. They discuss matters of common interest and come up with guidelines for how their schools should be run. Some say that to be a real public school a school needs to be part of HMC.

Some public schools are boys only; some are girls only but most are mixed. Some are boys only but mixed in the Sixth Form. The Sixth Form means the last two years of school. When public schools were founded hundreds of years ago they were boys’ schools and girls rarely went to school because their education was considered to be unimportant. In the 19th century some girls schools were founded. But the very old and rich schools are originally boys schools. This means they have more pupils and they can afford better facilities such as an Olympic sized swimming pool; a golf course; an excellent theatre and many games fields.

In the 20th century schools started to go mixed. This usually mean that boys schools started to take girls. For example Oundle went mixed in the 1980s. Sometimes this was a principled decision. On other occasions it was due to financial considerations. Those schools that have not gone mixed are the most outstanding schools. Likewise, some boarding schools started to take day pupils. Only three schools are all boys and all boarders – Eton, Harrow and Winchester. These are most outstanding schools in the country.

Many girls started going to schools that formerly admitted boys only. Girls secondary schools usually started at the age of 11. Boys secondary schools usually started at the age of 13. This meant that by the age of 16 a girl would have been in the same school for 5 years. She would often be bored and want to move to a mixed school. Some girls schools went bust. Those that have survived are the best ones. That said there is less pressure for places at girls schools. There certainly are some very clever girls at single sex schools but all girls schools tend to be easier to get into because there are fewer applicants.

Most public schools have boarders but some are only day schools. Many public schools have a mixture. For example, Ampleforth College is 85% boarding with 15% of the pupils being day pupils. It is better to be in the majority at any school. For instance, if you are a boarder at a school where a large majority of pupils are day pupils then you may be neglected.

Public schools are occasionally called ”independent schools” because they are independent of the state. In fact the Government has passed legislation giving itself more and more control over public schools. Public schools have to follow various laws set by the government even though the state does not pay for public schools. Fortunately, public school still have a greater degree of autonomy than state schools.

Public school boarding fees are anywhere from £20,000 to £35,000 for international students. It stands to reason that the best ones tend to be more costly. That said – expense does not guarantee quality. A few bad schools charge high fees. Consult guides to public schools and speak to an educational consultant.

93% of pupils in the United Kingdom attend state schools. There are a few brilliant state schools and these are mostly in rich areas. Most state schools are satisfactory or bad. Their academic results and facilities are usually less impressive than public schools.