As an alternative to state education many parents opt to send their children to a private fee-paying school. Traditionally private education in Britain has been for the children of the rich and the aristocracy, with schools such as Eton and Harrow being the most famous public schools. The confusing term “public school” comes from the first schools which were open to members of the public, as opposed to private schools where only the rich and aristocracy were allowed ot attend. (Today a school is deemed to be a public school if the head teacher of an independent school is a member of the Headmaster’s Conference – a group set up to look after the interests of the public schools).

Nowadays private education is for anyone who can afford to pay the fees that the private schools charge. These can be anything upwards from £2,000 a term. Some financial organizations provide savings schemes where parents can start saving as soon as their child is born. Indeed some schools allow parents to put their child’s name down for their school from a very early age; such is the demand for places.
Private education can start at age 2 1/2 where children enter a nursery school, before moving onto a preparatory (prep) school. Some prep schools take children through to age 11, whilst others go through to age 13, when they take their Common Entrance exam to a Senior school.

At present there are well over 2,000 independent or private schools in Britain, which is about 7% of the school population. Independent schools do not have to implement the National Curriculum, though many do choose to follow it. Nor do they have to comply with many rules and regulations from Government that are compulsory in State schools. They are not inspected by Ofsted, the Government’s inspectors, though they will be inspected less frequently – every six years – either by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate or the Independent School’s Inspectorate. Whilst the DFES will see the Inspector’s reports, independent schools do not have to show them to the parents, unlike their counterparts in the State system. However many independent schools do choose to allow parents full access to these reports, or at least a summary of them.

Why choose a private school?
Many parents are attracted to the smaller class sizes with a better than average pupil/teacher ratio. Discipline is another important factor for most parents with emphasis being placed on more formal classroom teaching. Other parents may be attracted to the school’s reputation in non-academic subjects such as sports, music or drama. Many private schools are set in large grounds in the countryside, which some parents see as an advantage. These schools will usually be boarding schools, who take in boarders during term time. Other private schools can be found in towns and cities, having been established for several hundred years. These may be more likely to be day schools. Many private schools are single-sex schools as opposed to co-educational, which some parents prefer. A major factor influencing many parents is the excellent exam results achieved by many independent schools, especially in GCSE’s and A-levels. However some independent schools are successful in taking less-academic pupils and giving them a good all-round education with more emphasis placed on subjects like sports, music and drama.

Paying for private education
Most parents start saving for school fees as soon as they realise their child will be attending a private school. Some even use the child benefit that they receive to do this. Others use one of many insurance savings schemes that are available. Some may use credit cards but this can lead to greater debt at a later stage. Your financial advisor is probably the best person to talk to regarding private fees savings schemes.