What’s the Difference Between State, Public and Private Schools?

As a boarding school in Devon, we understand that a well-rounded education from the very beginning can set children up for success. So, it’s no surprise that choosing the right school can be a momentous decision for parents.

If you’re in the school selection process, you may be weighing up the pros and cons of private schools and state schools. We explain the difference between the different kinds of schools in the UK so you can better understand all of your options.

how to choose a school for your child

What Are State Schools?

State schools are funded by the government and adhere to the national curriculum. There are no fees, and all children aged 5 to 18 in the UK are entitled to a place at such a school.

While most state schools are non-selective and include places for children regardless of academic results, there are some more selective academic-driven schools that are funded by the government, such as grammar schools and academies, the latter being run by an independent governing body but also receiving government funding.

Is a State School Right for Me?

One of the most obvious differences between state and private schools is the fees. For many parents, finding additional funding for their child’s schooling is not possible, or they would prefer to spend the money in other ways, like on family holidays or things that make daily life easier.

State schools also tend to have high social and cultural diversity, giving children more opportunities to learn from others and appreciate those who may be different from them.

However, because state schools must cater for a larger number of pupils, class sizes can be big, leaving some children feeling lost or unable to access the help they need.

As these schools must also follow a stricter curriculum, there is less room for teachers to adapt their lessons or subjects to a particular class. There is also less opportunity to offer more niche subjects to pupils, perhaps limiting how far they can develop an interest in something.

A group of pupils outside St Peter's School

What Are Private & Independent Schools?

Private schools, also referred to as independent schools, do not receive money from the government and instead fund themselves through school tuition fees paid for each pupil.

These schools are overseen by governors or trustees and do not have to adhere to the national curriculum. Despite the lack of government involvement, private schools are still subject to certain standards and are inspected by relevant governing bodies such as the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). Also, secondary school aged students here are still required to take the same national tests e.g. GCSEs and A Levels.

Many private schools are also boarding schools or have boarding options, referring to the fact that the students live on school premises during term time. This might include full or flexi boarding, where students return home for weekends or particular days.

The price of the fees can vary significantly, depending on the school, along with the subjects studied and extracurricular activities offered.

What are Public Schools?

The term ‘public school’ can cause some confusion as, outside of the UK, it is used to describe state schools funded by the government. In the UK, public schools are the most prestigious private schools: Eton and Harrow being among some of the most famous examples.

Like other private institutions, public schools charge fees. What sets them apart is that they are more selective, tend to have a longer history and are still strongly associated with the ‘upper classes’. All public schools are private schools, but not all private schools are public schools.

A St Peter's Prep classroom with students

Is a Private School Right for Me?

While private school fees can be expensive, which may not suit many families, bursaries and scholarships can be sought by parents to cover the costs of the fees, and others will prioritise the benefits of private schooling over the potential disadvantages.

(Head over to our fees page for a full breakdown of our Devon private school fees across year groups.)

Beneficial Smaller Class Sizes

As private schools tend to be exclusive, class sizes are much smaller, giving each pupil more face time with teachers and mentors and giving them more of a voice in class.

This allows greater opportunities for individual support and provides more resources to develop a child’s strengths.

The Benefits of Smaller Class Sizes

Higher Academic Standards & Extracurriculars

Private schools may also have a more ambitious academic focus, ensuring every child is exceeding their targets and considering their future. This is not to say that extracurricular activities are neglected though, as many private schools encourage and offer different activities that may not be included in a state school education.

A Path to Higher Education

Those who attend private school are more likely to go on to top universities like Oxford and Cambridge, setting them up for career success.

Boarding School Benefits

Attending a boarding school specifically comes with its own set of benefits, offering a sense of independence and growing confidence for children. If you’ve decided boarding school is the right fit for your child, you are also not limited by locality and can seek schools further afield from where you are based.

benefits of boarding at st peters prep

Private Vs State Schools

Ultimately, the school you choose for your child can be a very personal choice, coming down to a range of factors: your child’s personality, how much you can spend on fees and the reputation of the school, for example.

If a private school sounds like the right fit for you and you’re interested in finding out more about the educational opportunities at St Peter’s Prep, please get in touch or visit us on our next prep school open days, Devon.

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