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This is a background article to Private school education.

Private schools, or independent schools, are schools not administered by local, state, or national government, which retain the right to select their student body and are funded in whole or in part by charging their students tuition rather than with public (state) funds. In the United Kingdom and some other Commonwealth countries the use of the term is generally restricted to primary and secondary educational levels: it is almost never used of universities or other tertiary institutions. Private education in North America covers the whole gamut of educational activity. Private schools range from pre-school to tertiary level institutions. Annual tuitions at K-12 schools range from nothing at tuition-free schools to more than $40,000 at several boarding schools.

The secondary level includes schools offering grades 7 through 12 and grade 13. This category includes preparatory schools or "prep schools", boarding schools and day schools. Tuition at private secondary schools varies from school to school and depends on many factors, including the location of the school, the willingness of parents to pay, peer tuitions, and the endowment. High tuition, schools claim, is used to pay higher salaries for the best teachers, and also used to provide enriched learning environments including a low student to teacher ratio, small class sizes and services such as libraries, science laboratories, and computers. Some private schools are boarding schools. Some military schools are privately owned or operated as well.

Religiously affiliated or denominational schools form a subcategory of private schools. Some such schools teach religious lessons together with the usual academic subjects to instill their particular faith's beliefs and traditions in the students who attend. For example, The Epstein School in Atlanta, Georgia teaches conservative Judaism to its students. Others use the denomination as more of a general label to describe on what the founders based their belief, while still maintaining a fine distinction between academics and religion. They include parochial schools, a term which is often used to denote Catholic Christian schools. Other religious groups represented in the K-12 private education sector include Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and the Orthodox Catholics.

Many educational alternatives, such as independent schools, are also privately financed. Private schools often avoid some state regulations, although in the name of educational quality, most comply with regulations relating to the educational content of classes. Religious private schools often simply add religious instruction to the courses provided by local public schools.

Special assistance schools aim to improve the lives of their students by providing services tailored to very specific needs of individual students. Such schools include tutoring schools and schools to assist the learning of handicapped children.

Situation by Country[]

England and Wales[]

Generally preferring to be called independent schools because of their freedom to operate outside of government regulation, private schools are favoured by a minority of parents[How to reference and link to summary or text] because of their reputation for high academic standards, which are [higher][4] than those found in non-selective schools in the state sector, and sometimes wider opportunities in fields such as sport, drama and music. Many independent schools are single-sex (though this is becoming less common)[1]. According to the Good Schools Guide, "Approximately 7 per cent of children in education [in the UK] are at fee-paying schools. Fees range from under £1,000 per term to £7,000 and above per term for a day pupil, with wide variations depending on the age of the child, the staff/pupil ratio and so on – and up to £9,000+ per term for boarding."[2]

Independent primary schools are called preparatory schools, preparing pupils not for admission to a university as in the United States, but to an independent secondary school, which admit pupils taking into account their academic achievement as measured by the Common Entrance Exam. Such independent secondary schools are often called public schools, though this term is primarily used of the older and more prestigious schools which are members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference such as Manchester Grammar School, Bromsgrove School, City of London Freemen's School, Eton, Fettes College, Haileybury College, Harrow, King's, Loretto School, Rugby School, Tonbridge School, Wellington College, Westminster, Winchester, and Uppingham School. Many of these schools are boarding schools. The reason that private schools are called public schools in England is historical. These older schools were formed when there was little or no school system; they were called public schools then, because at that time schooling was really only available for the elite by private tutoring. By comparison, these early schools were considered public, open to all who could pay the fees as opposed to private tuition. The name has stuck since, but only in England. See also Independent school (United Kingdom)#Terminology for further elaboration on this topic. The name is almost a contradiction as they are private charities, not public, government-funded organisations.

Many private schools in England and Wales have a history of helping the disadvantaged. One in four children come from postcodes on or below national average income and one in three receives fee assistance[3]. However, since actual pupils' family incomes, which may be well above the average for a particular postcode area, were not determined these figures are largely meaningless.

Due to their ancient foundation, many private schools have a religious character, although this does not generally aim at pupils' religious indoctrination and does not preclude pupils of other faiths attending if they wish. Religion is not as important an aspect in the majority of parents' decision to send their child to an independent school as it is in the United States, due to the requirement of state schools to timetable periods of Christian worship.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In the 1970s the two-tier system was removed from state-run Secondary education in most of England and Wales, in which all students were required to sit the 11+ exam at that age. The more able students would then be offered a place at a local grammar school, as opposed to a secondary modern school. These were replaced by all ability comprehensive schools. However after comprehensivisation, some grammar schools were able to become independent (often the ones with an established heritage).

Although many of independent schools in England and Wales aim at the highest academic standards, a small number have been established to provide support for those experiencing difficulties in mainstream education. About half of the schools specialising in special educational needs are private schools.

United States[]

In the United States, the term "private school" can be correctly applied to any school for which the facilities and funding are not provided by the federal, state, or local government; as opposed to a "public school", which is operated by the government or, in the case of charter schools, independently with government funding and regulation. A small minority of private schools are prestigious non-religious institutions, but the vast majority of them are operated by religious organizations.

Private schools are generally exempt from most educational regulations, but tend to follow the spirit of regulations concerning the content of courses in an attempt to provide a level of education equal to or better than that available in public schools. Additionally, many students (particularly those at the transition between primary and secondary school) transfer to a public school, and therefore require similar preparation to that available in public schools.

In the nineteenth century, as a response to the perceived domination of the public school systems by Protestant political and religious ideas, many Catholic parish churches, dioceses, and religious orders established schools, which operate entirely without government funding. For many years, the vast majority of private schools in the United States were Catholic schools. A similar perception (possibly relating to the evolution vs. creationism debates) emerged in the late twentieth century among Protestants, which has resulted in the widespread establishment of new, non-Catholic, private schools.

Funding for private schools is generally provided through student tuition, endowments, and donations and grants from religious organizations or private individuals. Government funding for religious schools is either subject to restrictions, or possibly forbidden, according to courts' interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Non-religious private schools theoretically could qualify for such funding, but prefer the advantages of independent control of their student admissions and course content.

File:Us supreme court.jpg

In Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Amish family's right for home education

A similar concept, recently emerging from within the public school system, is the concept of "charter schools", which are technically independent public schools, but in many respects operate similarly to non-religious private schools.

Legality of private schooling[]

See: Legality of homeschooling in the United States

Private schooling in the United States has been debated by educators, lawmakers, and parents since the beginnings of compulsory education in Massachusetts in 1852. United States Supreme Court precedent appears to favor educational choice, so long as states may set standards for educational accomplishment. Some of the most relevant Supreme Court case law on this is as follows: Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).)

There is a potential conflict between the values espoused in the above cited cases and the limitations set forward in Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (see below).


Main article: Education in the Republic of Ireland

In Ireland, a private school (Template:Lang-ga) receives no State support (and as such, charges fees) and is, to some extent, not subject to state control in relation to curriculum, school day, school year, etc. There is, however, a limited element of State assessment of private schools because of the requirement that the State ensure that children receive a certain minimum education; Irish private schools must still work towards the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate, for example. Many private schools in Ireland also double as boarding schools. The average fee is around €5,000 annually for most schools, but some of these schools also provide boarding and the fees may then rise up to €25,000 per year. The fee-paying schools are usually run by a religious order, ie. Jesuits, Christian Brothers, etc.

There are also a small number of private international schools in Ireland including a French school, a Japanese school and a German school.


In much of India, the schooling offered by the state governments would technically come under the category of public schools. They are Federal or State funded and have zero or very minimal fees.

The other category of schools are those run and partly or fully funded by private individuals, private organizations and religious groups (especially by the Christian missionaries). The ones that accept government funds are called 'aided' schools. The private 'un-aided' schools are fully funded by private parties. The standard and the quality of education is quite high. Technically these would be categorized as private schools, but many of them have the name Public School appended to them, e.g., the Delhi "Public" Schools and Birla Public School in Pilani. Most of the middle class families send their children to such schools, which might be in their own city or far off (like boarding schools). The medium of education is English, but as a compulsory subject, Hindi and/or the state's official language is also taught. Preschool education is mostly limited to organized neighbourhood nursery schools.

Delhi Public School, R K Puram, the Modern School in New Delhi, Birla Public School in Pilani (Rajasthan) and Birla Balika Vidyapeeth in Pilani (Rajasthan) Delhi Public School, Pinjore are some of the most prestigious private schools in India.

These situations are more or less the same in the other countries of the Indian subcontinent (South Asia) like Nepal, Pakistan, etc.


See also: Education in Australia

Private schools are one of two types of school in Australia, the other being government schools (state schools). Whilst private schools are sometimes considered 'public' schools (as in the Associated Public Schools of Victoria), the term 'public school' is usually synonymous with a government school.

Private schools in Australia may be favoured for many reasons: prestige, and the social status of the 'old school tie'; better quality physical infrastructure and more facilities (eg. playing fields, swimming pool, etc.), higher-paid teachers; and/or the belief that private schools offer a higher quality of education. Some schools offer the removal of the purported distractions of co-education; the presence of boarding facilities; or stricter discipline. Public schools are more affordable and have less strict clothing codes although many public schools are getting stricter in uniform.

Private schools in Australia are still government funded, although they are also more expensive than government schools.

Private schools may have a greater focus on sports and other associations than public schools. The GPS schools in New South Wales and Queensland were established to promote certain sports perceived to be elite within these schools.

Unlike most public schools, most Australian private school students are subject to strict dress codes - for example, a blazer for boys.

There are two main categories of private schools in Australia: Catholic schools and Independent schools.[4]

Catholic schools

Catholic schools form the second largest sector after government schools, with around 21% of secondary enrolments. Most Australian catholic schools belong to a system like government schools, are typically co-educational, and attempt to provide Catholic education evenly across the states. These schools are also known as 'systemic'. Systemic Catholic schools are funded mainly by state and federal government and have low fees.

There are also a substantial number of independent Catholic schools, often single-sex, usually run by established religious orders, such as the Sisters of Mercy, Marist Brothers, Patrician Brothers or the Christian Brothers. Independent Catholic school fees vary, ranging from low to high. An example of this in boys private schools are Saint Pius X in the low range, and Saint Ignatius College, Riverview and Saint Joseph's College in the higher range. For girls, this would be Roseville College in the lower range, and Loreto (Kirribilli and Normanhurst) and Kincoppal in the high range. However, fees are typically lower than that of Independent schools, and fee concessions for Catholic families facing financial difficulty are quite common.

Catholic schools, both systemic and independent, proclaim strong religious motivations and most often the majority of their staff and students will be Catholics.[4]

Independent schools

Independent schools make up the last sector and are the most popular form of schooling for boarding students. Independent schools are non-government institutions that are generally not part of a system.

Although most are non-aligned, some of the best known independent schools also belong to the large, long-established religious foundations (Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian) but in most cases they do not insist on their students’ religious allegiance. These schools are typically viewed as 'elite schools'. Many of the ‘grammar schools’ also fall in this category. They are usually expensive schools that tend to be up-market and traditional in style, some Catholic schools fall into this category as well, e.g. SIC, Riverivew, and SJC, Hunters Hill, as well as Loreto Kirribilli and Normanhurst for girls.

On the other hand, many independent schools are quite new, often small, and not necessarily traditional at all.[4]


In Germany, Article 7 Paragraph 4 of the Grundgesetz (the constitution of Germany) guarantees the right to establish private schools. This article belongs to the first part of the German basic law, which defines the civil and human rights. A right, which is guaranteed in this part of the Grundgesetz, can only be suspended in state of emergency if the respective article literally states this possibility. That is not the case with this article. It is also not possible to abolish these rights. This unusual protection of private schools was implemented to protect these schools from a second Gleichschaltung or similar events in the future.

There are two types of private schools in Germany, Ersatzschulen (literally: substitute schools) and Ergänzungsschulen (literally: auxiliary schools). There are also private Hochschulen (private colleges and universities) in Germany, but similar to the UK, the term private school is almost never used of universities or other tertiary institutions.

Ersatzschulen are ordinary primary or secondary schools, which are run by private individuals, private organizations or religious groups. These schools offering the same types of diplomas like public schools. Ersatzschulen lack the freedom to operate completely outside of government regulation. Teachers at Ersatzschulen must have at least the same education and at least the same wages like teachers at public schools, an Ersatzschule must have at least the same academic standards like a public school and Article 7 Paragraph 4 of the Grundgesetz also forbids segregation of pupils according to the means of their parents (the so called Sondierungsverbot). Therefore most Ersatzschulen have very low tuition fees, compared to most other western european countries. However, it is not possible to finance these schools with such low tuition fees, that's why all German Ersatzschulen are additionally financed with public funds.

Ergänzungsschulen are secondary or post-secondary (non-tertiary) schools, which are run by private individuals, private organizations or rarely religious groups, and offering a type of education which is not available at public schools. Most of these schools are vocational schools. However, these vocational schools are no part of the German dual education system. Ergänzungsschulen have the freedom to operate outside of government regulation and are funded in whole by charging their students tuition fees.

See also: Education in Germany

South Africa[]

Some of the oldest schools in South Africa are private church schools that were established by missionaries in the early nineteenth century. The private sector has grown ever since. After the abolition of apartheid, the laws governing private education in South Africa changed significantly. The South African Schools Act of 1996 recognises two categories of schools: "public" (state-controlled) and "independent" (which includes traditional private schools and schools which are privately-governed.)

Schools previously called semi-private or model C schools are not private schools, as they are ultimately state-controlled.

South African private schools represent some of the finest in the world. More notably, there are far more quality boys schools as compared to girls schools. Private schools such as Michaelhouse, St John's College, Crawford College, Hilton College, Kearsney College, St Stithians College and St David's Marist Inanda consistently turn out top pupils.

See also: Education in South Africa


In Israel, private colleges are different from public colleges in that they are for-profit institutions. They are not independent of government regulation, as the Council for Higher Education in Israel still has the authority to approve or deny all of the academic programs and departments.


In the Philippines, the private sector has been a major provider of educational services, accounting for about 7.5% of primary enrollment, 32% of secondary enrollment and about 80% of tertiary enrollment. Private schools have proven to be efficient in resource utilization. Per unit costs in private schools are generally lower when compared to public schools. This situation is more evident at the tertiary level. Government regulations have given private education more flexibility and autonomy in recent years, notably by lifting the moratorium on applications for new courses, new schools and conversions, by liberalizing tuition fee policy for private schools, by replacing values education for third and fourth years with English, mathematics and natural science at the option of the school, and by issuing the revised Manual of Regulations for Private Schools in August 1992.

The Education Service Contracting scheme of the government provides financial assistance for tuition and other school fees of students turned away from public high schools because of enrollment overflows. The Tuition Fee Supplement is geared to students enrolled in priority courses in post-secondary and non-degree programmes, including vocational and technical courses. The Private Education Student Financial Assistance is made available to underprivileged, but deserving Filipino high school graduates, who wish to pursue college/technical education in private colleges and universities.

In the school year 2001/02, there were 4,529 private elementary schools (out of a total of 40,763) and 3,261 private secondary schools (out of a total of 7,683). In 2002/03, there were 1,297 private higher education institutions (out of a total of 1,470).

Limits by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child[]

David Smolin, an American law professor, has stated that: "Commentators have noted a potential conflict between Article 29 of the CRC and current constitutional doctrine within the United States. Article 29 (of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) limits the right of parents and others to educate children in private school by requiring that all such schools support both the charter and principles of the United Nations and a list of specific values and ideals. By contrast, Supreme Court case law has provided that a combination of parental rights and religious liberties provide a broader right of parents and private schools to control the values and curriculum of private education free from State interference."[5]


  1. ISC Annual Census 2007[1]
  3. ISC Social Diversity Study[2]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The National Education Directory Australia: Private Schools in Australia (accessed:07-08-2007)
  5. David M. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 29, 104 at [3] - See Susan H. Bitensky, Educating the Child for a Productive Life, in CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN AMERICA 181 (Cynthia Price Cohen & Howard A. Davidson eds., 1990) (referring to “fundamentalist” curriculum used in some private religious schools which evidences hostility toward the United Nations). Relevant cases include Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

See also[]


External links[]

National and International Private School Associations

Private School Statistics

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