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What’s the Difference? State School Versus Private School

How does the 11+ compare?

The Importance of Choosing the Right School

Deciding on the right school and educational journey for your child is one of the most crucial and future-defining decisions a parent can make. It’s no wonder that the decision is fraught with hesitation and uncertainty.

The UK education sector is broadly divided into two main types of schools: private schools and state schools. Here we discuss the key differences between a state school and a private school and how these two types of schools are set up and run.

Our aim is to give you better insight into the UK school system and the variations between a private school and state school, to help you make an informed decision and provide the best possible education to your child.

Here at JK Educate we are experts in helping families get the best out of the UK education system. We support children and their parents on their educational journey through our tutoring and consultancy services. We are here to provide expert insight into the school system to enable you, the parent, to navigate the best course for your child.

If you would like to know more about how we can help you and your child please refer to our available services or get in touch by phone on 020 3488 0754.

What’s the Difference Between Private Schools and State Schools?

There are some key differences between a private school and a state school. These differences will play a huge difference in the educational experience for your child, the level of support they receive, the subjects available to them, and how the school is regulated. Let’s take a look:

What is a State school?

All state schools are one hundred per cent government or local authority funded. Students are typically selected based on their proximity to the school and do not pay a fee to attend. There are several types of state schools, which can make the matter confusing. The most common ones are:

  • Community schools, also called local authority-maintained schools or comprehensive schools. These schools are not influenced by business or religious groups, follow the government’s national curriculum and are fully regulated by the government. There is no entrance exam or fees to pay, children are accepted into the school based on the proximity of their home to the school, known as a catchment area.
  • Foundation schools and voluntary schools, are funded by the local authority in which they are located but have more freedom to change the way they do things compared to community schools. For example, foundation schools are sometimes supported and governed by representatives from religious groups.
  • Grammar schools can be run by the local authority, a foundation body or an academy trust – they select students based on academic ability through an entrance exam (known as the 11+), prioritising places for students who achieve the highest scores. The 11+ exam focuses on students’ knowledge of maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning skills.
  • Academies and free schools, are run by not-for-profit academy trusts and are independent of the local authority. As a result, they have more freedom to change how they run things (such as setting their own term times) and can follow a different curriculum. Trustees of the academy are responsible for the performance and standards of the school. Academies are often supported by sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, or faith groups.

What is a Private School?

Private schools, also known as independent schools, public schools, non-governmental, privately funded, or non-state schools. Private schools are not funded or governed by the government or local authorities and are privately owned and funded. As such they do not have to follow the curriculum set out by the government and have the freedom to administer the school as they see fit.

Funding typically takes the form of charging a term or yearly fee to students, and often also incorporates financial support from businesses and universities. Private schools are governed by a board of trustees and governors who oversee regulations and standards.

Admission to a private school often requires an entrance exam and interview. Many offer scholarships for students of exceptional academic talent or other abilities, such as sports or music, for example.

In the past, private schools were often referred to as public schools. However, the term ‘public school’ is misleading. ‘Public school’ originally referred to a small group of boys’ boarding schools which, in 1868, were given independence from the Crown, church or government in favour of management by a board of governors. The original seven were Charterhouse, Eton College, Winchester College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School, and Westminster. Nowadays, there are hundreds of private schools, consisting of boys, girls, co-education, boarding and day schools.

State School versus Private School – Key Differences

The greatest difference between a state school versus a private school is the funds available to the school. The higher level of funding in private schools allows greater facilities and opportunities to be provided to their students. As the key objective of most private schools is to train high-achieving students to enter top universities, many have established a working system and schedule that specifically targets such needs.

Here are some of the key differences:

Extra-curricular activities

One of the key benefits of attending a private school is the extra-curricular activities on offer. In state schools, extra-curricular activities are few and far between (especially in recent years with cost cutting across state schools resulting in many extra-curricular activities being axed). They are often considered as an ‘extra’ in that they are not thought of as key elements in a child’s education. Extra-curricular activities in state schools tend to focus on sports, although grammar schools are known for their academic focus which sometimes reflects in the extra-curricular activities that they offer.

In private schools, a broad range of extra-curricular activities are offered and are seen as an integral part of a child’s education. Extra-curricular activities often include a wider variety of different sports practice, visual and performing arts, clubs of all kinds, advanced sports training, interest groups, community service and volunteering awards schemes, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme.

This can give students opportunities to explore more interests, become more well-rounded and gain deep-rooted passions. Not to mention giving students experience of collaborating in groups, managing their schedules, helping students to build a network at an early age, and encouraging them to explore and define their own personalities.

In addition, private schools tend to place an emphasis on offering more support for struggling students or students with specific needs which can be harder to access in state schools.

Government regulation

State schools are bound to government regulation and must adhere to the national curriculum, ensuring that all children in UK state schools receive the same teachings at the same time. Some state-run academies and foundation schools can adapt their curriculum to reflect their organisational purpose – such as a faith-based school including more religious lessons, for example.

Private schools, however, are free to set their own curriculum that they deem most beneficial for their students. This freedom allows private schools to adopt a curriculum and standards that expand beyond the limitations of most state schools. Intellectual, philosophical and religious programming, for example, can be integrated into the school curriculum.

Some people feel the national curriculum is too prescriptive and can be a hindrance to teaching quality in state schools, leaving less room for passionate teachers who might want to deviate from the main curriculum. This could result in children that are fantastic at passing tests, but less academically rounded than their privately-schooled counterparts.

All state schools require government certifications for teachers, while private schools may prioritise advanced degrees in the subject matter. Private schools may also accept teacher certifications from other educational organisations outside of the state-recognised certifications. Due to the nature of funding in private schools, it is common that teachers in private schools are paid more than in state schools, as a result, private schools are often able to attract and retain higher-level and/or more experienced teachers.

The availability of IGCEs in many UK private schools is a good example of how a non-government-regulated curriculum can offer students a wider variety of core choices and opportunities for future education. IGCEs (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) is the ‘international’ version of the GCSE qualification and is highly recognised and respected. This is beneficial for students who may wish to study abroad in the future.

Class sizes

There is a marked difference in class sizes between private schools and state schools. Primary and secondary schools see the biggest variation in class numbers, whereas A-level classes in both state and private schools have more comparable class sizes and remain typically small.

UK state-run primary schools have the largest class sizes – averaging 26.7 students per class in 2021/2022. In state-run schools a class is not deemed ‘large’ until it has over 30 students, at which point a 2nd teacher or teaching assistant is required in class to ensure that all children can be taught adequately. In private primary schools, the average class size is 16 students – that’s nearly 40% less than their state-run counterparts.

We can also see a stark difference in secondary school classes (pupils aged 11 to 15). In key stage 3, there are, on average, 22.3 students per class in state schools compared with 15 in private secondary school classes.

According to the Private Education Policy Forum (PEPF), the average student-to-teacher ratio across all classes (primary and secondary) is 8.6 students to 1 teacher in private schools compared to 17.9 students to 1 teacher in state schools. That’s double the number of students in a state-run school.

This means that students receive more teacher attention in private schools. This helps children to learn more effectively as it provides students with the chance to interact more with teachers, build confidence, ask questions, and get the attention they need to learn and progress.

Small class sizes also significantly improve class participation and interest in learning, as teachers can cater to the learning styles of different students and give more constructive feedback.

Most children have at least one subject that they struggle with at some point in their educational journey. Large class sizes can compound the issue as children struggle to get the attention they need from an overworked teacher, and the teacher has less time to notice and help students who need extra assistance. This can be demoralising for a child whose confidence can be affected by such a situation, and made worse if they feel they are unable to ask and answer questions in class.

At JK Educate, we offer personalised one-to-one tuition to students of any age and any ability. Our long-established and widely respected UK tuition agency delivers a raft of support for parents and students who want to get the very best out of their education. Browse our services or call us on 020 3488 0754 to find out how we can help you and your child achieve excellence in education.

Setting Your Child Up for the Future

While there is certainly more to consider than just class sizes and the availability of extra-curricular activities when choosing the right school for your child, the areas detailed above give an overview of the key differences between state schools versus private schools in the UK. When deciding on a child’s academic journey most parents are concerned about the academic potential and performance, along with the future academic and career prospects that they provide.

Although some studies have shown that students in the top sets of both private schools and state schools produce similar exam results, it can be argued that private schools produce children with a greater level of soft skills and have more networking opportunities. This can set them up well for success at university and in life.

It appears that most of the advantages of private schools are achieved through higher levels of available funding. Of course, there are always exceptions. There are some state schools that have more generous funding and some private schools that have less. Nonetheless, according to PEPF, the private versus 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.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this translates into better facilities and learning opportunities for private school students. Many studies show the advantages and higher success rates for private school students when they go on to study at university or enter the job market. Here are a few top-level statistics:

  • According to The Guardian, although only 10% of pupils are privately educated, more than 40% of UK athletes who won medals in the London 2012 Olympics had attended independent schools. As well as the quality of the sporting facilities themselves, private school pupils also tend to have the opportunity to try different types of sporting activities than their state school-educated contemporaries.
  • A study of university entrants in 2013, found that 60% of independently educated students went to university, in comparison to 48% in the state sector. Of the 60% of independently educated university entrants, 37% went to a Russell Group member, such as the Universities of London, York or Warwick and 5% were admitted to Oxford or Cambridge. On the other hand, only 11% of just under half of the state school pupils who went to university attended a Russell Group institution and just 1% went to Oxford or Cambridge.
  • The Guardian reported that although only 7% of British children attend fee-paying schools, students from private schools make up 39% of Cambridge undergraduates (at Oxford, the figure is 43.2%).
  • A PEFP study noted that by the age of 42, men who had been privately educated were earning up to 34% more than their state-educated contemporaries. The gap was slightly closer in the case of women, with those who were independently educated earning 21% more than state school attendees. Even soon after graduation, the pay gap between private and state-school educated peers is evident: within six months the average difference is £1,300 per annum.

A Solid Base for Future Success

For parents who have this critical decision to make there are many variables to be considered in addition to the basic private school versus state school option. This includes the availability of schools in the area, funding and scholarship opportunities, family resources available to fund fee-paying studies, the learning style and strengths of the child, the philosophy and approach of the school, amongst many others. It certainly is a minefield.

If you are confused by the UK education system, you certainly are not alone. At JK Educate it’s our business to know the UK education system inside and out. We provide private tuition, child assessments, and education consultancy to children of all ages and abilities. If you would like help navigating the UK school system and want to give your child the best chance of success contact us today via our website or call on 020 3488 0754 to find out how we can help.


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