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UK Systems Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Independent schools
Fee-charging schools are sometimes described as ''private schools'' or traditionally in England (somewhat confusingly) ''public schools". Independent schools receive no grants from public funds and are owned and managed under special trusts.

Most independent schools offer a similar range of courses to state schools and enter pupils for the same public examinations. The independent sector is not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and comply with the associated education targets.

Primary schools

Independent primary schools fall into two main categories: pre-preparatory, for ages two to seven, and junior or preparatory ('prep') schools, for ages seven to 11 or 13. The preparatory title is used because the last two years in the school are often devoted to preparation for the Common Entrance examination; a pass is required for admittance to many independent secondary schools.

Fee-charging schools come in a variety of forms. Some are privately owned and run for profit, others are charitable foundations. The Independent Schools Information Service offers a guide giving the name and addresses of schools, as well as entry requirements.

According to ISIS, the average class size for preparatory schools is 15 to 20 pupils per teacher.

Fees range from about 600 to 1,100 per term for ages two to seven and 950 to 2,500 for day pupils aged seven to 13 - 2,300 to 3,500 per term for boarders.

Secondary schools

The majority of independent secondary schools have classes or teaching groups of between 20 and 25 pupils, even lower at sixth form level. They admit pupils at any age from 11.

Many will require them to take an examination. Sometimes the school sets its own examination, but many use the Common Entrance Examination, which can be taken for entry to the school at 11, 12 or 13. The exam is set centrally and marked individually by the senior school. Each school has its own pass mark.

All independent schools in the UK are open to inspection by approved inspectors and must register with the appropriate government education department.

The education departments lay down certain minimum standards and can make schools remedy any unacceptable features of their building or instruction, as well as excluding any unsuitable teacher or proprietor.

Fees at independent schools vary widely. They depend on whether schools are educating older children or younger ones, day or boarding and, sometimes, on the part of the country in which they are situated. The figures below are the latest figures for 1997-98. They are broad ranges: some schools will be lower or higher. In 1998 they will increase, possibly by about 5 per cent.

The approximate range of fees per term is from 1,300 to 2,700 for girls' day schools, 2,700 to 4,400 for boarding girls; 1,300 to 3,200 for day boys and 2,800 to 4,600 for boarders.

More than five children out of six at independent schools are day pupils. They often come from a wider catchment area than those at state schools, and sometimes the children live 15 or 20 miles away from their school.

In 1997 boarders accounted for 6.5% of the 223,000 girls in independent schools and 9.9% of the 250,800 boys. The boarding proportion has declined steadily for many years. In 1982, 27.7% of pupils were boarders.

With boarding education, parents can choose from a wider range of schools and save the trouble and expense of daily travel, but boarding will not suit every child.

Assisted places

From 1981 until 1997, many independent schools in England and some in Wales offered places to children whose parents could not afford the full fees through the government-funded Assisted Places Scheme. The last pupils to benefit from these assisted places entered schools in September 1997, as the Labour government elected in May 1997 is committed to phasing out the scheme.

Some schools are attempting to compensate for the loss of the scheme by increasing the number of scholarships awarded from their own resources, although these rarely cover the full fees. Scholarships are awarded as a result of a competitive examination, usually for academic, musical, artistic or all-round merit.

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