Twelve Essential Things to Know About Britain’s Private Schools:

  1. Number of pupils

  2. Family background of pupils

  3. Bursaries and state school sponsorships

  4. Resources gap

  5. Fees

  6. Charitable status

  7. Academic outcomes

  8. Later-life earnings

  9. Professions and politicians

  10. Adults privately educated

  11. Location of schools

  12. Number of schools

1. HOW MANY CHILDREN IN BRITAIN ARE AT PRIVATE SCHOOLS?

  • There were approximately 619,000 children in private schools across the UK in 2018.
  • In England, the proportion of school pupils at private schools was 6.65 percent.(This statistic is the origin of the so-called “7 percent problem”, a phrase sometimes used to characterise the disproportionate influence in society of a small minority. This proportion has been relatively steady for several decades.)
  • However, if we don’t include the children of non-British families non-resident in Britain (28,900 in ISC-affiliated schools), the figure is closer to 6%.
  • In Scotland, the proportion being privately educated (in 159 schools) was 4.3 percent in 2009 (the census was discontinued after this year).
  • In Wales, the proportion being privately educated (in 70 schools) was 2% percent.
  • In Northern Ireland there are just 15 private schools, educating less than 1% of the pupil population.
  • In the UK as a whole, the proportion of children of UK-resident families participating in private education is approximately 5.8 percent.

2. WHO GOES TO PRIVATE SCHOOL?

By family income:

  • The large majority (around 87%) of pupils at private schools come from parents who are business owners, or have professional and managerial backgrounds. The proportions have not changed much for a long time.
  • The below tables shows the proportions of pupils according to family background.
FAMILY BACKGROUND 2004 2014

Managerial & professional 77% 78%

Intermediate occupations 5% 6%

Small Employers 7% 9%

Routine and manual occupations 6% 4%

Not working/unknown 5% 3%

(Source: Analysis of Next Steps Survey for 2004, Millennium Cohort Study wave 6 for 2014.)

Fig 1. Percentage in private school at each rung of the income ladder

(Source: Data from Family Resources Survey; see Green, F., J. Anders, M. Henderson and G. Henseke (2017). Who Chooses Private Schooling in Britain and Why? London, Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES), Research Paper 62.. The base population is all children aged 5-15 living in private households in Great Britain, between 2001/2002 and 2015/2016. The income rungs are the percentiles of their families’ gross weekly income.)

Age phase:

  • At the primary stage, 5 percent of pupils attend private schools.
  • At the secondary stage, 8 percent of pupils attend private schools.
  • Of those in sixth forms, 17 percent of pupils attend private schools.

Boarders:

  • About 13% of pupils in private schools UK-wide are at boarding schools.
  • Boarding is most common in the South West of England (around 1 in 4 private school pupils), and least common in Greater London (just 3%).

Foreign pupils:

  • Excluding international schools, about 5% of private school pupils are non-British with parents living abroad. The largest group are from China (both mainland and Hong Kong).
  • Another 5% are non-British but with parents who live in Britain.

3. WHO GETS BURSARIES AND SPONSORSHIPS?

4. WHAT IS THE GAP IN RESOURCES FOR PRIVATE AND STATE SCHOOL PUPILS?

  • The private-state resources gap is approximately 3 to 1 on average. In other words, a privately-educated pupil will have three times the amount of money spent on their education as a pupil in a state school.
  • The pupil-teacher ratio is 8.5 to 1 in ISC schools, less than half the ratio in state schools, which is 17.9 in England. In other words, a privately-educated pupil will have double the number of teachers as a state-educated pupil.

(While private school fees continue to rise ahead of inflation, per capita resources in the state sector have fallen since 2015. Therefore, the resource gap is probably rising – though a caveat is that statistics on private schools’ resources are scarce.)

5. WHAT ARE THE FEES?

  • Fees have risen by an average of 6.6% every year over 2000 to 2010, and by 3.9% every year over 2010 to 2019.
  • Since 1980, fees rose by more than a factor of three in real terms after allowing for inflation. In 1980, average fees were 20% of median household income; by 2014, fees were 50% of median household income.

The average school fee in ISC schools (which cover most but not all private schools) in 2019, before extras, was:

  • Boarding pupil: £34,700
  • Day pupil in boarding school: £19,200
  • Day pupil in day school: £14,300

Fees vary to some degree; 21 schools charge day pupils over £21,000, while others (40) charge less than £6,000.

Fees also vary by region: London, then the South East have the most expensive day schools; London, then Yorkshire the most expensive boarding schools.

6. WHAT ABOUT CHARITABLE STATUS?

Of private schools affiliated to the ISC:

  • 989 schools (75%) are charities
  • 296 (22%) are profit-making
  • and 41 schools are ‘not-for-profit’ organisations.

Meanwhile, all state schools must pay normal business tax rates to their local authority, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds per school a year.

An analysis of 582 private schools suggested they didn’t have to pay £522 million in taxes over five years because of their tax relief status.

Eton College (see its Charities Commission page here) alone would have had to pay an extra £4.1 million.

  • However the ISC, in a study by Oxford Economics, estimates it saves the taxpayer £3.5 billion every year by educating pupils outside the state (not £20 billion as The Times wrongly claimed, see Full Fact article here). In other words, this it what it would cost the state to educate all the pupils currently in the private school sector.
  • To put this £3.5 billion figure in context, in 2017-18 the government spent £39 billion on the state schools budget. That made up 58% of total government education spending in England. The current government has announced £2.6 billion more for schools in 2020-21 alone, so it appears capable of spending more billions on state schools when it needs to.

7. WHAT IS THE ‘EFFECT’ ON ACADEMIC OUTCOMES OF GOING TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL?

At each stage of school education – primary, lower secondary and upper secondary (sixth form) – those at private school achieve modestly better academic outcomes, even after allowing for their family backgrounds and prior achievement. There are currently 14 studies that have found a private school advantage.*

One example is:

  • For those educated at private primary (i.e. “prep”) schools in the 1980s, reading and maths scores were significantly greater than for those educated at state primary schools.
  • For those educated at prep schools in the 2000s, reading scores were significantly greater than for those educated at state primary schools.

Cumulatively, the advantages build up through young people’s time in education. The consequence is that the privately educated enter work life with better qualifications. Thus, comparing only among those from professional or managerial backgrounds:

  • Many more privately educated people obtain university degrees than state-educated pupils (85% compared with 67%); (???)
  • Twice as many (24% compared with 12%) obtain degrees at a ‘Russell Group’ university
  • An average of 43% of offers from Oxford and 37% from Cambridge were made to privately educated students between 2010 and 2015.

However, some studies have shown that once at university the advantages cease (and if anything are slightly reversed). One found that on some measures state pupils were significantly more likely to get a 2:1 than their private school peers.

8. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN EARNINGS IN LATER LIFE OF PRIVATELY EDUCATED PUPILS?

  • Those who attended fee-paying schools earned £4,500 more than those from state schools, three years after graduating, according to research.
  • Salaries of privately-educated people also increased more quickly, growing by £3,000 more over the same three-and-a-half year period.
  • The research said half of this difference can be explained by factors such as prior academic attainment and type of university, but the remaining half is not explained by academic factors and is likely to be down to articulacy, assertiveness and other soft skills.
  • Privately educated pupils are likely to earn almost £200,000 more between the ages of 26 and 42 than those from state schools, according to another report.

9. WHAT PROPORTION OF ADULTS IN PROFESSIONS AND POLITICS WERE PRIVATELY EDUCATED?

  • 65% of senior judges; 52% of junior ministers; 52% of diplomats; 49% of senior armed forces; 45% of public body chairs; 44% of national news columnists; 43% of male international cricketers; 20% of pop stars; and 16% of university vice chancellors attended private school.
  • At the time of research, 29% of MPs were from a private school background, a figure which has been decreasing over time as more state-educated MPs enter the Commons.
  • The House of Lords is less representative, with 57% of its members educated privately. This figure is actually 8 percentage points higher than 2014.
  • In current prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet, the proportion of privately-educated ministers is twice as high as Theresa May’s 2016 cabinet – at 64% compared to 30%. In David Cameron’s 2015 cabinet, the rate was 50%.

Of course, these statistics effectively “look backwards” in time because many of those in top positions now would have been at private school several decades ago.

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10. HOW MANY ADULTS HAVE BEEN PRIVATELY EDUCATED?

  • Roughly 9% of the British adult population have been, at some time, at a private school.
  • This proportion is greater than the proportion of current school children in private education, because many switch between the sectors at different stages of their school careers.

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11. WHERE ARE THE SCHOOLS?

Private schools are all over Britain. However, their density varies:

  • England’s private schools are disproportionately concentrated in London and in the South East region. They are also concentrated within London, where in some boroughs – Richmond-Upon-Thames, Camden and Westminster – more than three in ten schools are independent.

Scotland’s schools are concentrated disproportionately around Edinburgh.

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12. HOW MANY PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE THERE?

  • There are about 2,500 private schools across the UK; this varies a little from year to year.
  • In 2018 there were 2,320 private schools across England; these were 9.5% of all schools in England.
  • Only 1,364 of these schools are affiliated to the Independent Schools Council (ISC); however, these ISC-affiliated schools educate about 85% of all private school pupils.Fig. 2 Share of private schools and pupils in England in the 21st Century

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* Data health warnings:

a) Each young person is unique: the above findings are only averages across the population.

b) While studies take account of the differences in socio-economic background between private- and state-educated people and in their prior achievements, there are no random controlled tests or similar experimental evidence of causal effects.