Private Education

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

 Educational Achievement and Social Class : The Importance of Independent/Private Education

Date last edited :19/08/2020


Document Contents

    • Useful links
    • Introduction: Some factual information
    • State Schools, Independent Schools, GCE Advanced Level Results and University Entrance
    • State School Students , Independent School Students and Degree Classifications
    • Ex-Independent School Students [mainly male] in the  Professions
    • Possible Arguments in Support of Private Education
    • Possible Criticisms of Private Education
    • Some Recent Developments
    • Conclusions
  • Independent Schools and Education Policies
  • Assignment
  • Some Further Links

Useful Links

Click here for LSE video lecture : Engines of Privilege: Britain's Private School Problem Francis Green and David Kynaston

Click here for article by Francis Green and David Kynaston

Click here for The Guardian Long Read

The Case for Abolishing Private Schools

Click here for a brief video item by George Monbiot.

Click here for The Headmasters' and Headmistresses Conference Website

Click here for the 2020 ISC Census and Annual Report

Click here to follow Guardian coverage of Private Schools

Click here for Guardian coverage of Oxbridge and Elitism


  Introduction: Some Factual Information

    1. For purpose of these notes I shall assume that the terms "Independent  Schools" and "Private Schools" can be used synonymously to refer the entire Non- Maintained Sector but I shall  use the Term "Independent Schools" myself
    2. As is indicated in Table 1 below a distinction is made in Official UK data between Public Sector Schools which are organised by the State and educate students free of and Non-Maintained Schools which are organised by Trusts or by Private Owners who educate students in return for the payment of fees. 


  • As indicated in Table 2 below in their presentation of GCE Advanced Level results in England the DFE distinguish between State Funded Schools, State Funded FE Colleges and Independent Schools. In this context "Independent Schools refers to non-maintained schools and not to Academies and Free Schools which are often described as Independent State Schools
  • Approximately 80% of Independent School students are educated in the 1364 Independent Schools Council  schools. Some Independent Schools which are not affiliated to the ISC may have 300-400 students but most of these schools are small  and include , for example, schools catering for religious groupings such as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and evangelical Christians as well as  schools adopting what might be considered less conventional approaches to education such as the Montessori Schools, the Steiner Schools and the famous Summer Hill School.
  • Click here for Montessori Schools and for Steiner Schools and for Summerhill 
  • The term "Public School" is usually taken to refer to the most prestigious Independent Schools some of which have existed for several centuries among which have been the most prestigious of all Clarendon Schools [Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Merchant Taylors, Rugby, St. Pauls, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester]. However the number of "Public Schools did increase significantly in the 18th and 19th Centuries such that differences in academic and social standing did arise between the so-called major and minor Public Schools.. Nowadays  so called "Public Schools" are most likely  to define themselves as Independent Schools  rather than Public Schools.
  • Independent Schools are subject to less state regulation than State Sector Schools. For example they are not forced to teach the National Curriculum and can employ non-qualified teachers but they are certainly subject to some state regulation and must be inspected regularly , possibly but not necessarily by OFSTED. You may click here   for further details relating to the state regulation of Independent Schools.


In 2017/18 there were 32117 schools in the UK educating 9.7 million pupils. Non-maintained schools are schools which  receive their financial resources not from the State but from the fees charged for educating students. About 6-7% of these pupils [about 580,000] attended one of the 2463 non-maintained  schools in the UK although it is estimated that about 9% of UK residents have attended non-maintained schools for all or part of their education. Also around 15% of students aged 16-18 are currently educated in non-maintained schools. You may click here and then on the first set of main Tables and then on Table 1 to access 2019 data for England only

Table 1


1364 [2020]  Independent schools representing approx  50% of all Independent Schools and educating approximately 80% of all independent School students [Senior, Mixed Age and Junior ] are registered with The Independent Schools Council which itself comprises 7 affiliated organisations  students. Thus  although some of the Independent Schools not affiliated to the ISC  have  several hundred students most are fairly small. The   best known Independent Schools  are usually members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference (HMC) originally formed in 1871. There are currently 296 such schools in the UK and the Republic of Ireland  [with about 60 internationally affiliated schools] and  about 10 Head Teachers of state schools are also associate members of this organisation. Approximately 263,000 students are educated annually in HMC Schools.

 Click here for the 2020 ISC Census and Annual Report and Click here for data from the HMC website
Data from the ISC Census 2020.
There are 1374 ISC Schools [255 Senior Schools; 459 Mixed Age Schools; 640 Junior Schools]

ISC Schools educate 537,315 pupils. Approximately 263,00 of these students are educated in HMC Schools

13% of ISC students are boarders  although some are "flexi-boarders" . There are 900 Day Schools and 474 Schools with some boarders

24% of all students are in single -sex schools. There are 1100 co-ed schools; 160 girls schools; 1i4 boys schools

35% of ISC students are ethnic minority members

16.3% of ISC students have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Less than 50% of ISC schools are academically selective. [However  many of the more prestigious Independent Schools are selective. 

28,910 [%.6%] of students are overseas students

6169 students receive full fees bursaries [See later]

"ISC Schools  appear to be extending their Public Benefit activities"  [See later]

A large proportion of ISC students continue to HE. Of these students 51% continue to a "top25 university" and 5% continue to Oxford/ Cambridge.

  • State Schools, Independent Schools, GCE Advanced Level Results and University Entrance

Click here for 2019  data comparing  Advanced Level results in different types of schools and colleges and then  here for National Tables and then on Table 1A  Students might usefully  read the SFR Report and look at Table 1A.I have edited Table 1A below  but students should actually consult the original sources if they wish to study the data in detail. Also Table 1c indicates that State Selective School students achieved better GCE Advanced level results than students in the rest of the State Sector

Click here  for the revised [January 2020] for the revised version of this document. The table below refers to the unrevised version  but I have included the revised data in tables 4 , 5 and 7   highlighted in BLUE


Data on GCE Advanced Level results and on University entrance are available from the DfE, the HESA and individual universities respectively. These data are also carefully analysed in various reports from the Sutton Trust and from the Social Mobility Commission . On the basis of these sources one may draw the following conclusions which are  discussed in   more detail in my essay on Independent Schools and Social Class Differences and Educational Achievement.

    1. Approximately 7% of UK students and 15% of UK students aged 16-18 are educated in the Independent sector.
    2. In 2018/19  31% of Independent sector students gained 3 GCE Advanced level grades A*-A or better compared with 11.1% of State sector students.
    3. However because of the relative large number of state schools/colleges about 72% of students gaining 3GCE Advanced Level A*-A grades were State sector students compared with 28% from the Independent sector.
    4. Among both  Independent sector schools/colleges  and the State sector schools/colleges there are considerable variations in GCE Advanced Level results.
    5. The Entry requirements for Oxford and Cambridge Universities are 3 GCE Advanced Level grades A* /A and for Russell Universities Approximately 3 GCE Advanced Level grades A
    6. If university entrance depended solely on Advanced level grades one would expect approximately 70% of entrants to Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Universities  to be State school/college students.
    7. Data presented in a 2018 Sutton Trust Report indicated that 58% of Oxford entrants and 63% of Cambridge entrants in 2016/17 were from State schools/colleges. Source 2
    8. Also in several Russell Universities between  60% and 70% of entrants were from State schools/colleges  although in several Russell Universities 70%-85% of entrants were from State schools/colleges.
    9. Since 2016/17 the proportions  of State school/college entrants t Oxford and Cambridge have increased very considerably. There has been little change in the patterns of enrolment at the other 22 Russell Universities. We may conclude  that to some extent high -performing State school/college  students are under-represented at Oxford, Cambridge and some other Russell Universities
    10. Nevertheless Click here for Oxbridge over-recruits from 8 schools 


Why do larger percentages of Independent sector students than of State sector students gain high grade A Level results ?

    1. It is generally argued  that approximately 80%-90%  of differences in examination results can be explained in terms of social and economic factors external to the schools themselves. Thus, for example in Bourdieusian terms  social class differences in educational attainment can be explained in terms of social class differences in economic , cultural and social capital.
    2. Despite the existence of a range of scholarships and bursaries available for less affluent students it remains the case that Independent sector students are drawn disproportionately from the higher social classes and this seems to be especially likely in the case of the more prestigious and more expensive Independent schools/colleges. See SMC Report State of the Nation Report2018/18 Pages 66-70   and Click here for LSE video lecture : Engines of Privilege: Britain's Private School Problem Thus differences in the examination results as between the Independent and State sectors can to a considerable extent be explained in terms of social class differences in student intakes..


  • However there have also been significant studies which conclude that Independent School students are likely to gain slightly better examination results than state school students from similar social backgrounds with similar measured academic abilities. This has been explained by the smaller classes, better educational resources and wider availability of cultural activities available to Independent School pupils and also as a result of the more aspirational attitudes of the staff, the students themselves and their parents. It has also been claimed that Independent School students have received better advice in relation to the appropriate choice of subjects, the writing of personal statements and interview techniques and that  they are more likely to have been encouraged specifically to apply to high status universities. Conversely state school students  in many but not all state schools  have been less likely to receive this kind of advice and therefore less likely to apply to high status universities even when they have been predicted to gain very good GCE Advanced level passes.


    1. Thus although differences in examination grades as between State and Independent sector students derive primarily from external factors studies indicate that some further advantage is conferred as a result of studying in the Independent sector which means that studying the Independent sector can on average improve students' chances of gaining entry to Oxford, Cambridge and the other 22 Russell Universities which means that State School students are thereby disadvantaged by the existence of the Independent Sector. This is an important aspect of the case for the reform of the Independent Sector.
    2. However, as mentioned above, because of the relative large number of state schools/colleges about 72% of students gaining 3GCE Advanced Level A*-A grades were State sector students compared with 28% from the Independent sector and consequently the enrolment of state school students at Oxford , Cambridge and the other 22 Russell Universities is relatively high.
    3. However what is much more significant  is the under-representation of disadvantaged students at Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Universities. Thus although nowadays approximately 70% of Oxford and Cambridge students and similar proportions of Russell University students are from the  State sector it is also the case that  over 80% of these students are from Social Classes 1 and2 .
    4. This must be because disadvantaged students in the State sector are less likely to gain sufficiently high grades but also because even when they do achieve high grades they are less likely, for a variety of reasons to apply to Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Universities.
    5. Is it fair to conclude that affluent State sector students in the more effective state Schools/colleges are at a disadvantage relative to Independent sector students but that it is many socially disadvantaged students who remain at a major disadvantage relative to Independent sector students  and relative to their more affluent State sector peers largely because as has been mentioned 80%-90% of differences in educational attainment can be explained by factors external to the education system..    

These issues are discussed in more detail in my essay on Independent Schools and Social Class Differences and Educational Achievement.

State School Students , Independent School Students and Degree Classifications

The HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] published a report indicating that in 2013-14 82% of State school students who graduated from English universities  achieved  a First or a 2:1  compared with 73% of Independent School students Unfortunately , however the HEFCE was quickly obliged to admit that it had made what it called "a transposition error" and in reality it was 82% of Independent School students who had gained a first or a 2:1 compared with 72% of State School students.

Nevertheless in mitigation the HEFCE  stated that "once prior attainment and other factors such as socio- economic background are controlled for  State School pupils  still perform better than expected against Independent Schools. Make of that what you will

Click here and here for coverage of the HEFCE "transposition error".

The HEFCE and OFA [Office for Fair Access] have subsequently been wound up and combined into a new organisation; The Office for Students.

Ex-Independent School Students [mainly male] in the  Professions

  • Post-War Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers.

Since the 1940s 8 out  14 x UK Prime Ministers have been educated at private schools 5 have educated at  Eton. Churchill[ C] Harrow; Attlee [L] Haileybury; Eden [C] Eton; MacMillan [C] Eton; Douglas Home [C] Eton; Blair [L] Fettes; Cameron [C] Eton; Johnson [C] Eton. Prime Minister5s Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Brown and May were all educated at state schools and Wilson, Heath, Thatcher and May were all subsequently educated at Oxford University. Prime Minister Callaghan was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School and Gordon Brown was educated at Kirkaldy High School [a state comprehensive school] and Edinburgh University.

Cabinet Ministers have also been disproportionately likely to be educated and private Schools. Some examples are provided in the following table.


Click here for Sutton Trust Analysis of Cabinet 2019

Click here for Guardian coverage of Sutton Trust Report

Click here for Sutton Trust analysis Parliamentary Privilege 2019

Click here for Sutton Trust Analysis of Cabinet 2020


Further information can be found in various published reports

In the 2009 report : Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions [2009] chaired by Labour MP  [and former senior Minister] Alan Milburn there is analysis of  long term trends in social mobility within the UK and the future policies which might help to increase future rates of social mobility. Most of the data on the representation within the professions of former independent school pupils are taken from a submission of evidence by the Sutton Trust based on data from the years 2004-7.

The Sutton Trust evidence suggests that the representation of independent school pupils within the professions has in general declined slightly in the last 20 years or so but that there is some evidence that within the legal profession it has actually increased. The summary data are presented in the following diagram taken from the BBC Website. 

You may also click here for the BBC coverage of the Alan Milburn Report,


More recent information can be found in the Sutton Trust Reports

Click here for Sutton Trust Leading People  2016

Click here for access to advantage: Sutton Trust 2018 and here for Guardian analysis of this Report

Click here for Elitist Britain Sutton Trust  2019 [See especially pages 8-9 and 12-18]  and  click here for BBC coverage of this report

Click here for BBC coverage of Elitist Britain



There are some variations in the categories used in the above two Sutton Trust Reports but it is nevertheless clear that Independent School Students are disproportionately likely to secure employment in high status well paid occupations.  However on the one hand it may be argued that these are mostly Independent School former students who achieved  very good A level results and access to high status universities so that they are eminently suited to employment in these occupations whereas on the other hand it may be argued that they are over-represented in these occupations by comparison with State School students who have also achieved very good A level results and access to high status universities.

It might be claimed also , especially perhaps from the Left, ex- Independent School students are drawn disproportionately from the higher social classes and that as a result they have little experience of the lives of "ordinary people" and that they are  likely to bring upper class prejudices to their decision making. However this is a view that many might reject , rightly or wrongly. In any case it has also been argued that talented working class candidates for elite positions are unlikely to be successful unless they hide any signs of political radicalism if they ever had any!


Possible General  Arguments in Support of Independent Schools

The following arguments are made in favour of Independent  School Education


  • Individuals should be allowed to spend their money as they see fit, and if they wish to pay fees for their children to be educated outside of the state system, they should be allowed to do so.
  • Some parents may feel, rightly or wrongly, that their local state schools are relatively ineffective schools and they may opt for private education as a means of securing what they consider to be the best possible education for their children.
  •  Many Independent Schools  are especially well-funded both as a result of expensive fees and because they enjoy charitable status for taxation purposes and therefore they can afford smaller classes and better resources than are possible in the state sector.
  • Teachers' salaries in the Public Schools are higher than in the state sector, and it is argued that this [along with the academic traditions of the schools themselves] attracts better quality teachers who are often graduates of Oxford or Cambridge Universities, and, indeed, may often themselves have been educated at Independent Schools..
  •  In the most academically successful Independent Schools all students must pass a difficult Entrance Examination and so they must all have good academic potential. This means that there are few slow learners to restrict the progress of the brightest students and a competitive spirit develops among the students which helps to maintain high academic standards.
  •  Some Independent Schools are Boarding Schools and it may be argued that the Boarding School environment  ensures that students devote enough time to their studies while, at the same time, a wide range of extra-curricular activities is provided. [However note that currently
  •  Since the parents are either paying  fees or took the trouble to apply for places via the Assisted Places scheme [when it existed] , this implies a high level of parental interest and commitment which complements the work of the schools and further improves their children's educational prospects.
  •  As a result of the above advantages, the better fee-paying schools gain very good GCSE** and Advanced level results which place them at or close to the top of Government League tables. Fee-paying secondary school students are proportionately much more likely than state secondary school students pupils to gain places at Oxford , Cambridge and other  Russell Group Universities. Thus, approximately 40% of Oxford and Cambridge students come from Independent Schools  although Independent Schools educate only approximately 15% of  the school population aged 16-18 and although. the proportion of the State School pupils at Oxford and Cambridge is increasing,  they remain statistically under-represented. Whereas critics of private education argue that University selection processes may be biased in favour of private school candidates supporters argue that in recent years these biases may, if anything have been reversed and that more private school candidates are successful because they are "the best"..
  •  Parents choosing  Private Education often argue that they are effectively contributing to reduced rates of taxation because in the absence of Private Education governments would be obliged to spend additional money on state education in order to educate the children who are currently being educated privately.
  •  It is agued that the Private Schools are educating a disproportionately large number of potential linguists and scientists and that without them some University departments would be in danger of collapse because of lack of students, which in turn would undermine significantly the UK's economic prospects
  • Click here  for information from the Guardian on proportions of University Science and Modern Languages students educated at Private Schools. 
  •  Career prospects for Independent c School students are often very good, partly because they have been well-educated, but partly because they have been able to build important social contacts and partly because in some cases the persons responsible for appointing young people to potentially important positions will often themselves have been educated at Public Schools and may as a result tend to favour Independent school applicants. All of these points represent advantages of Independent School education to those who benefit from it although the latter two points suggest that from the point of view of society as a whole the existence of Independent School education may undermine equality of opportunity. Supporters of private education argue that in any case selection procedures have become increasingly meritocratic in recent years.

** However note that some Independent Schools do not actually teach GCSE courses which affects their league table positions adversely at GCSE level.
Possible Criticisms of Private Education
Click here for Alan Bennett on the need for the abolition of private schools. There is also a link to the Independent Schools' Council criticism of Mr. Bennett's views.
The following arguments are sometimes used to criticise the existence of Private education


  •  Although on average Independent Schools  do achieve especially good examination results  some Independent Schools  provide a rather mediocre education for their students.
  •  Where Independent  schools do achieve good examination results, this may be partly as a result of better teaching and resources, but it may also be because they select only high ability students who may well have gained equally good examination results if they had attended a state school.
  •  It may be that, on average, teachers in the 'better' private schools are more highly qualified academically than state school teachers although  this may not be true of private schools on the whole, In any case, actual evidence on this point is not readily accessible and teaching ability does not depend solely on the teacher's academic abilities but also on such factors as communication skills and ability to enthuse the students. It may be virtually impossible to determine whether one group of teachers is  'better' than another, especially when, in any case, they must teach apparently different types of pupil. On a personal note [and hence certainly not on a necessarily representative note] I have certainly known very well qualified, effective teachers who on principle would not teach in private schools.
  •  Boarding students may experience lack of privacy, loneliness and miss parental support, if, for example they are victims of bullying at school. However among ISC Schools there are 891 Day Schools and 493 Boarding Schools
  •  Some students might feel restricted by the boarding school environment and prefer more freedom to spend their leisure time as they personally choose.
  •  Many private schools have until recently been single sex schools and while this enabled students to avoid the distraction of the opposite sex, it may also be more difficult for students educated in single sex schools to relate to the opposite sex in later life. However nowadays only 24% of ISC Schools are Single Sex schools
  • It is sometimes claimed that some aspects of the 'hidden curriculum' in some private schools might be essentially conservative. Social and economic inequality might be perceived as part of the natural order of things and students may be encouraged to believe that as products of private schools, they are essentially 'better' than their state educated peers. However, many private school students may be imbued with a desire to use their education for the benefit of society as a whole, while others, like Tony Benn and Tony Blair have been attracted by left-wing, or at least, apparently left of centre politics.
  •  The division of the UK education system into state and private sectors may itself be socially divisive, for if upper and upper middle class students are educated separately from working class students, there may be little mutual understanding and this could be a factor in subsequent industrial relation problems.
  •  It is easier for private school students to gain entrance to Oxford and Cambridge Universities and subsequently to reach Elite positions in UK society as Cabinet Ministers, Judges, senior Civil Servants etc. This may be because private schools have provided them with a better initial education, but it may also be because of family and social connections which exist between private schools, Oxbridge and Elite occupations.
  •  It may also be the case that when upper or upper middle class, privately educated, Oxbridge graduates reach positions of power and influence, they define the national interest in terms of the interests of their own social class and take decisions accordingly. This is an argument which is used especially in Marxist theories of the state and by some other radical but non-Marxist socialists..
  •  I t has been argued above that a private education is not necessarily a better education, although in some cases, it may be. If it is better, it is clearly unfair that this type of education is available only to those students whole parents can afford to pay for it and although Independent Schools do have system of bursaries and scholarships their extent is limited. .
  • .) The existence of private education may undermine meritocracy which is likely to result in economic inefficiency as well as social injustice.


Students should discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of these arguments with their teachers

Appendix Independent Schools and Education Policies 1940- 2020: Some Landmarks

Click here for detailed article by Professor Malcolm Gaskill

  •  Winston Churchill in the early 1940s saw some need for reform of the Independent Sector but since he was obviously preoccupied with  the war effort  he delegated responsibility for reform of the Independent Sector to Secretary of State R. A. Butler who responded with the setting up of and official inquiry under the chairmanship of Scottish judge Lord Fleming . Although the Committee 's eventual report raised some quite radical possibilities such as turning the public schools into Junior Universities or even Youth Centres these ideas were rejected and the Committee  instead recommended  that the schools  should devote 1/4 of their boarding places to state school pupils receiving bursaries although it would be for the schools themselves to determine how the bursaries to be allocated leaving open the possibility that the result would be to siphon off the some of the most intelligent students form the State system.
  •  1945 saw the return with a large majority of a Labour Government committed to wide ranging economic and social reform involving especially  the nationalisation of several major industries  and the reform and expansion of the welfare state including the state education system. Thus it was that the Labour Government implemented the provisions of the 1944 Education Act [ devised by R.A. Butler]  which provided for the introduction of tripartite secondary education in the state system but Labour did nothing to reform the Independent education sector. Labour Prime minister Clement Attlee, who had been a student at Haileybury Public School  was keen for the continuation of the public schools as was his first Secretary of State Ellen Wilkinson who nevertheless was keen to ensure that the 25% proposal of the Fleming Committee was accepted
  •   In the event the proposal of the Fleming Committee was not widely accepted partly because it was based on the idea that the schools themselves would select the free boarders which was seen by Labour politicians as likely to dilute the quality of the state school intake although some Local Education Authorities did make use of the scheme.
  • Labour increasingly argued that the way forward was to improve the quality of state education so that fewer parents would choose private education but this  could be no more than a utopian aspiration and in any case Labour was defeated in the 1951 General Election and remained in opposition until 1964. Meanwhile the Conservative Administrations of 1951-64 had no inclination to interfere with the current organisation of the private sector.
  •   When Labour was returned to government in 1964 new Prime Minister Harold Wilson appointed Antony Crosland as his Secretary of State for Education who in his study The Future of Socialism [1956] had written that the existence of private schools " is much the most flagrant inequality of opportunity as it is of class inequality."  Crosland promoted the rapid expansion of Comprehensive Education and also set up the Public Schools Commission   under the chairmanship of Sir John Newsom in 1965. The Commission Reported in 1968 [and again under the chairmanship of David Donnison in 1970] . There was little support for the 1968 report and it is claimed that Crosland himself was unenthusiastic about public school reform because it would have contradicted his own libertarian instincts which on this issue seemed to override his commitment to equality.
  •  Click here  for some recent History post 2nd world war  and here for some detail on the Newsom and Donnison Reports
  • In 1970 Labour were defeated in the General Election and replaced by the Conservatives under new Prime Minister Edward Heath who showed little interest in the reform of the public schools.  
  • When Labour were returned to office in 1974 they legislated to abolish Direct Grant Schools in the hope  that these schools would opt to become full participants  in the state education system but in the event the majority of Direct Schools opted to become fully fee paying schools rather than to join the State Sector.
  • In 1979 the Conservatives, now led by Margaret Thatcher , were returned to power  and introduced the Assisted Places Scheme which offered grants to the parents of state school students wishing to opt for Private Education. Under this scheme 75,000 places were offered at private schools, usually to middle class rather than poorer students. There were no proposals to reform the private sector significantly although some One Nation Conservatives were critical of the system and others were sympathetic to closer links between the private and state sectors. in 1990 Margaret Thatcher was replaced as Prime Minister by John Major under whose leadership the Conservatives won the 1992 General Election but were defeated heavily in the 1997 General Election. Labour remained in power until 2010
  • Labour leader Tony Blair stated during the 1997 General Election campaign that his three most important policies would be "Education; Education: Education but of course he would focus mainly on the implementation of a Diversity and Choice agenda within the state sector. He did repeal the Assisted Places scheme but the main controversy in the Blair-Brown era and under subsequent Coalition and Conservative Governments has surround the Charitable Status  of the Independent  Schools. Click here for House of Commons Library Paper Charitable Status and Independent Schools
  • As Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett was critical  of the continued existence of Charitable Status for the Independent Schools   which meant that the school fees which they charged were exempt from VAT  while the schools themselves were also exempt from business rates and corporation tax
  • When David Blunkett subsequently became  Home Secretary  he put forward proposals for the reform of Charities Law  resulting in the publication of a new Charities Bill  which became4 law in 2006. Prior to the introduction of this law Independent Schools had been granted charitable status  on the grounds  that then provision of education by the Independent Schools intrinsically promoted public benefit despite the fact that these schools  catered primarily [but not entirely ] for the children of affluent families
  • Under the terms of the 2006 Act a new Charities Commission was set up which stipulated that if Independent Schools were to retain their charitable status  they would need to demonstrate that they were producing public benefit for the  community a s a whole and the Chairperson of the Charities Commission  claimed that this could be done most effectively via the provisions  of more and larger bursaries which would enable les affluent students to attend these schools.
  • In test cases the Charities Commission then declared that two relatively small Independent schools  were failing to offer sufficient free places and other community benefits and that they therefore risked having their charitable status withdrawn. This decision provoked  vigorous opposition from the Independent sector and the Independent Schools Council eventually brought a case before the High Court  when judges ruled that it was for the Independent Schools themselves rather than the Charities Commission  to decide how they could best  comply with the new Public Benefit test. However the Court also decided that "any school will need to consider whether the provision of some of its facilities can really be justified as either part of or properly ancillary to  the advancement of education... where facilities at what we might call the luxury  end of education  are in fact provided it will be even more incumbent on the school to demonstrate a real level of public benefit " [Quoted in Posh Boys : How English Public Schools Ruin Britain  Robert Verkaik 2018.}
  • In the years following this court decision there have been continuing disagreements  as between organisations such as the ISC and the HMMC representing the Independent Sector and those favouring radical reform of the Independent Sector as to the real public benefits provided by the Independent sector. Thus annual statistics provided by the ISC   Click here for the 2020 ISC Census and Annual Report    indicate   that ISC schools do provide financial help in the form of bursaries and scholarships  and collaborate with State schools by sharing their sports, drama and musical facilities  and by the provision of academic support.
  • However critics argued that only limited financial help is provided to disadvantaged students and that the cooperation between Independent and State Schools is very unlikely to improve significantly the academic prospects of state school pupils.. Thus Robert Verkaik states that although 35% of ISC pupils receive some reduction in fees only 1% of pupils receive a 100% reduction in frees and that of those students who receive some reduction on fees some are from relatively affluent families. Ultimately the data on Independent schools demonstrate that pupils are drawn very disproportionately from affluent families.
  • Although many ISC schools do collaborate academically with State schools only a very few ISC schools have sponsored Academies and much academic cooperation is relatively informal and not necessarily effective. while, in any case, the effectiveness of academisation has itself been called into question.
    • Critics of Independent schools have therefore argued that Independent schools do not provide sufficient Public Benefit to justify their preferential tax status which should therefore be removed. Robert Verkaik quotes a 2010 Fabian Society Report  which states that introducing Vat on Independent School fees could raise £1.5  billion annually and that Charitable Status also reduces their business rate liability by £525.74Million between 2017-2022. State Schools on the other hand pay full business rates. Click here for a recent Guardian article by Frances Ryan which references Robert Verkaik's book
    •  Click here for House of Commons Library Paper Charitable Status and Independent Schools Click here for recent TES article on bursaries
  • Prime Minister Theresa May was apparently far from convinced  that the Independent Schools were  providing sufficient public benefits and launched a Consultation Pare on the Independent Schools in May 2016.The  2017 Conservative General Election manifesto stated that "We will work with the ISC  to ensure that at least 100 leading Independent Schools become involved in academy sponsorship or the funding of free schools in the state system keeping open  the option of changing the tax status of Independent schools if progress is not made." Click here for a recent BBC report on Private Education and University access. "Don't handicap private pupils," says leading headmaster
  • However in its response to its Consultation Paper in May 2018 the Government did not include any proposals relating to the charitable status of Independent Schools  but it did refer to an agreed understanding between the DfE and the ISC regarding ways in which Independent schools might generate public benefits.
  • In 2019 the Conservative Government stated that it had no plans to change the tax status of Independent Schools.
  • The Labour Party Conference 2019  voted in favour of a motion that the Labour Party should commit  to "integrate all private schools into the state sector" but this policy decision was watered down in Labour's 2019 General Election Manifesto and of course Labour was in any case defeated in the 2019 General Election.


Click here and here for BBC coverage of OFSTED Head's critical view of relationships between state and private education sectors.     October 2013

Click here for Fiona Millar on the charitable status of Private Schools  October 2013

Click here for Guardian coverage of Sutton Trust Report on Private Schools'  bursaries.     

Click here for ISC response to Theresa May



In this document I have tried to describe the overall significance of the non-maintained, Independent Sector  of education and to list the main arguments which are used in the support or the criticism of the continued existence of private education. To extend your sociological knowledge and understanding of the nature of private education you should relate this topic to the sociological analyses of class, ethic and gender differences in educational achievement  and also apply the differing sociological perspectives on the functions of formal education systems to the analysis of the private education sector.

I hope that the following assignment will help you to consolidate and extend your knowledge and understanding of this topic.


  1. How many schools existed in the UK in 2017/18?
  2. How many of these schools were [a] maintained or state schools and [b] non-maintained or private schools?
  3. What percentage of school pupils were educated in private schools in 2017/18?
  4. What are the approximate average annual private school fees for [a] private day school pupils and [b] private boarding school pupils?
  5. Briefly compare the A level results of State Schools and Independent Schools?
  6. Briefly give three possible reasons why, on average, Independent School A level results are comparatively good.
  7. What can you say about  the school background of high status professional people?
  8. How might the existence of private schools affect relationships between social class and educational achievement ?
  9. What do you understand by the terms "meritocracy" and " social mobility"?
  10. Does the existence of private schools restrict meritocracy and upward social mobility?
  11. [This is not an easy question and since little information is available in the textbooks it will require quite a bit of thought from you which I am sure you will enjoy! ] The functions of formal education systems are analysed from different sociological perspectives. Write separate paragraphs on  how  private schools might be analysed from the following sociological perspectives:
    • The Functionalist Perspective
    • The New Right Perspective
    • The Social Democratic Perspective
    • The Marxist Perspective
    • The Feminist Perspective
    • The Interactionist Perspective
    • The Postmodernist Perspective:


Some additional links


Click here for Guardian article by Melissa Benn

Click here for Guardian article [2008] by David Kynaston: The Road to Meritocracy is blocked by Private Schools  March 2014

Click here for New Statesman article by David Kynaston and George Kynaston : Education's Berlin Wall: The Private Schools Conundrum. April 2014

Click here for Newsnight video clip on Private Education

Click here for TES article on increased representation of state school pupils at Oxbridge ...although they are still under-represented.  August 2017

Click here for Guardian Article; record numbers  of state school pupils at Oxford and here for further information and here for record numbers at Cambridge 2019/2020

Click here for Oxbridge over-recruits from 8 schools  and here and here and here for outreach plans to increase access for working class students.

Click here for The Guardian Long Read

The Case for Abolishing Private Schools September 2018x

Click here for recent TES article on bursaries


Click here for Guardian coverage of Sutton Trust Report on Private Schools'  bursaries.

Click here for Daily Telegraph coverage of Private Education