Each year, The Sunday Times Parent Power releases its ‘best schools’ league tables based on that year’s GCSE and A level results. The 2022 league tables (released in December 2021) indicate that the top 10 private schools in England are all located in the South East – specifically within the City of London, Greater London, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Kent and East Sussex.
As the terms private and public have entirely opposite meanings, it can be confusing when you hear some private schools being referred to as ‘public schools’.
In the UK, ‘public school’ is an archaic term used for an elite group of fee-paying schools. The term first emerged in the 18th century when a small group of well-established boys’ schools distinguished themselves from the spread of grammar schools (which were free) by charging fees. These schools were Eton College, Shrewsbury School, Harrow School, Charterhouse School, Rugby School, Westminster School and Winchester College.
‘Public school’ is now considered an outdated term in the UK, with fee-paying schools now typically referred to as ‘private schools’ or independent schools’.
UK private schools are renowned for having smaller class sizes than their state school counterparts. While state schools will often have around 30-32 pupils in a class, private schools have a much lower pupil-to-teacher ratio.
In Key Stage 3 (Year 7 to 9), there are around 20 (normally no more than 25) pupils per class in UK private schools. As pupils move from year to year, class sizes tend to become smaller as a result of ‘streaming’ (setting classes based on academic ability) and more subject choices to choose from at GCSE and A level. Sixth form classes are typically much smaller, with around 8 to 15 students in a class.
St Paul’s Girls’ School, located in Hammersmith, West London, is often top of the list in The Sunday Times Parent Power’s top independent schools. The girls’ day school was founded in 1904 to complement St Paul’s School (the boys’ counterpart), which was founded in the 16th century.
Students are known as ‘Paulinas’. There are approximately 20 students per class in the Lower School at St Paul’s Girls’ School.
In 2021-22, the school fees are £8,802 per term (Year 7 entry). St Paul’s Girls’ School offers music scholarships for 11 plus applicants and has a means-tested bursary programme which may be available to families with a total gross household income of less than £110k.
A level: 97.8% A*/A/B
GCSE: 99.4* A*/A/9/8/7
King’s College School Wimbledon is a prestigious boys’ day school situated on the edge of Wimbledon Common in South West London. Girls are accepted into the sixth form. The school was founded by royal charter in 1829 as the junior department of King’s College London on the Strand, before moving to Wimbledon in 1897.
In 2022-23, the school fees will be £7,310 per term (Year 7 entry). King’s College School Wimbledon offers entrance bursaries of up to 100% tuition fees to eligible families as well as academic, music and sports scholarships.
A level: 96.9% A*/A/B
GCSE: 96.5% A*/A/9/8/7
Wycombe Abbey is a girls’ boarding and day school located on a 69-hectare campus in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. It was founded in 1896 by Dame Frances Dove.
There are around 16 pupils per class at Wycombe Abbey.
The termly fees for Wycombe Abbey in 2021-22 are £10,315 for day students and £13,750 for boarding students. The school also offers academic and music scholarships (of limited financial value) and means-tested bursaries to girls whose parents could not otherwise afford the fees.
A level: 96.7% A*/A/B
GCSE: 96.7% A*/A/9/8/7
Magdalen College School offers an independent day education to boys aged 7 to 18 and to girls in the sixth form. It is located in the cathedral city of Oxford, with approximately one-third of students going on to study at either Oxford or Cambridge universities after A levels.
The average class size for pupils in Years 7 to 11 at Magdalen College School is 25.
In 2021-22 the fees are £6,600 per term. Magdalen College School offers means-tested bursaries to students who meet the academic standard of entry and where there is a genuine financial need for assistance. In 2019-20, one in ten pupils were on a bursary. The school also offers scholarships in academia, music, art, sport and drama as well as ‘all-rounder awards’ and ‘governors’ presentation awards’.
A level: 96.6% A*/A/B
GCSE: 95.3% A*/A/9/8/7
Founded in 1888, Guildford High School offers an independent day education to approximately 1,000 girls aged 7-18. The Sunday Times named it the ‘South East Independent Secondary School of the Decade’ in 2021.
Guildford High School’s fees for 2021-22 are £6,100 per term. The school offers a sibling discount of 5% (and 10% for subsequent daughters) and means-tested bursaries to eligible families. Academic and music scholarships are also available based on assessment and can be worth up to 5% off the school fees.
A level: 95.3% A*/A/B
GCSE: 97.2% A*/A/9/8/7
St Paul’s School is a boys’ independent day and boarding school located on a 43-acre site in Barnes, West London. It was founded in 1509 by John Colet, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. Boys at St Paul’s School are known as ‘Paulines’.
The fees in 2022-23 will be £9,162 per term (or £13,788 per term for boarders). Bursaries between 20% and 100% may be available for families whose combined household income is less than £120,000. St Paul’s School also offers academic scholarships of a small financial value and music scholarships, which include free tuition on up to two instruments.
A level: 95.4% A*/A/B
GCSE: 96.1% A*/A/9/8/7
Westminster School is an independent day and boarding school for boys (and girls in the sixth form) located in Little Dean’s Yard in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, City of Westminster. About half of the students go on to Oxbridge, giving Westminster School the highest national Oxbridge acceptance rate. Class sizes at Westminster School rarely exceed 22.
The fees for Westminster School in 2021-22 are £9,987 per term for day pupils and £14,424 per term for boarders. A bursary programme is in place, with approximately £1.4m of support available to pupils across the Under School (prep) and Great School (senior). Academic and music scholarships are also available.
A level: 94.1% A*/A/B
GCSE: 98.3% A*/A/9/8/7
Brighton College is a co-educational day and boarding school with three sites in the East Sussex seaside town: Brighton College Nursery & Pre-Prep School, Brighton College Prep School and Brighton College. It has been awarded the title of ‘United Kingdom School of the Decade’ by The Sunday Times.
Class sizes at Brighton College are normally around 15 to 18 pupils.
The fees for Year 7 pupils at Brighton College in 2021-22 are £6,120 per term (rising to £8,900 by the end of the sixth form). Boarding is available from Year 9 and is upwards of £12,220 per term. Brighton College has means-tested bursaries available for day pupils who are eligible. A range of scholarships are also available.
A level: 97.4% A*/A/B
GCSE: 90.9% A*/A/9/8/7
City of London School for Girls is a day school for girls aged 7 to 18 in the Barbican, within the City of London. It is partnered with the City of London School (boys) and the City of London Freemen’s School (co-educational).
The current fees at City of London School for Girls are £6,888 per term. The school usually has 12-15 bursary places to allocate at 11 plus depending on the pupil’s success in the entrance exams and interview, and the family’s financial circumstances. Music scholarships are also available for pupils at 11 plus.
A level: 95.1% A*/A/B
GCSE: 95.4% A*/A/9/8/7
Sevenoaks School is an independent day and boarding school for over 1,000 boys and girls in Sevenoaks, Kent. Founded in 1432 by William Sevenoke, it is the second oldest non-denominational school in the UK. It has twice been named The Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Year.
There are generally no more than 20 pupils per class in the main school, and around 10 students per class in the sixth form.
The standard fees at Sevenoaks School are £8,340 per term for day pupils and £13,320 per term for boarders. At least five free places are available to successful day applicants in Years 7 and 9 for families with a gross annual income of less than £40,000. Additional funding may be available for successful day applicants whose families have a gross annual income of £100,000 or less. In addition, 55 scholarships are available (academic, art, drama, music and sport) and are worth a £1,000 reduction on the first year’s fees.
A level: 95.8% A*/A/B
GCSE: 92.7% A*/A/9/8/7
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