Education of international students in UK independent schools

International parents are often keenly interested in the facts and figures of UK Independent Schools. So, what does “independent school” mean?

Independent schools are private schools that are overseen by a board of governors or trustees. But independent schools are not traditional private schools. A private school can be run by a for-profit company, a non-profit company, or a church or some other non-governmental organization. Conversely, an independent school is considered private, but is run by a board of governors or trustees that is independent (hence the name) of any other entities.

These schools charge fees to attend instead of being funded by the government, and pupils do not have to follow the national curriculum. Although all schools market themselves on having high expectations for their students, generally, in independent schools, parents have the power to push harder, teachers can be given more flexibility and may, arguably be better because the pay and working conditions are preferable. However, not all independent schools are academic powerhouses and many state schools are academically excellent.

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If you want your child to attend one of the top London boarding schools, you’re looking at annual costs of around £40,000 a year, with Eton costing £42,501, Harrow £41,775 and Westminster £41,607. Photo: Eton College

Independent schools sell themselves partly on the wide range of extra-curricular activities. Why are these important ? Because they give children who aren’t good at mainstream subjects like English or maths a chance to shine, and therefore to gain confidence. The more options there are, the more likely they will find something they excel at.

The 2020 Census, which was published by Independent Schools Council (ISC) at the end of April, provides the latest key data. As a whole, the UK independent sector educates around 630,000 children in 2,500 schools. This is 6.5% of the total number of school children in the UK (ISC Research). Perhaps owing to the global eminence of many of UK boarding schools, international parents are often surprised that only an estimated 1% of UK children enjoy the benefits of a boarding education. Below are some of the key findings from the 2020 report relating to non-British pupils with parents living overseas:

  • Non-British pupils account for 5.5% of all pupils in Independent Schools Council (ISC) schools.
  • In terms of boarding, non-British pupils make up 39% of boarding pupils at ISC schools.
  • While full boarding remains the most popular boarding type, the proportion of weekly and flexi boarders has increased for four consecutive years to 20.2%.
  • The largest proportion of non-British pupils are from China & Hong Kong, then Germany, Russia and Spain.

The 2020 Report shows that UK boarding is increasing in popularity in China & HK, Japan, S Korea, North America and non-EEA European countries. Russia and many of the European markets reported a slight downturn, but the decreases in countries such as Germany, Spain or Italy, were particularly minimal. According to the British Boarding Schools Network (BBSN) these decreases could be attributed to uncertainty over Brexit.

The ISC report finds that pupils in UK Independent schools significantly outperform the UK and global averages academically, which is, perhaps, one of the many reasons that independent schools have maintained strong global appeal over the decades.

If money truly is no object the obvious choice would seem to be to choose a good independent school, one that your child likes and will thrive at. For many parents the choice may not be so clear.

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