House of Commons Library

Independent schools (England)

Published Friday, June 28, 2019

An overview of the topics Members commonly encounter relating to fee-paying independent schools in England

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Around 7% of pupils in England attend schools that are not funded by the state. 

The term ‘independent school’ in legislation includes academies, which are state-funded, but more commonly the term is used to refer to schools that do not receive state financing, but are instead principally funded through the fees paid by pupils.

This briefing is concerned with fee-charging independent schools.

Independent schools are not subject to many of the requirements placed on state-funded schools, and in particular those placed on local authority maintained schools.  Their freedoms include greater autonomy relating to the curriculum, in hiring teachers, and in their admissions policies.

These schools are, however, required to register with the state and subject to the independent school regulations that prescribe certain aspects of their operation.  Independent schools are subject to inspection, by Ofsted or other accredited school inspectorates.

Independent schools are also, as educational institutions, able to take charitable status, which has associated advantages including relief from business rates.  The 2016 Annual School Census by the Independent Schools Council found that 78% of their member schools had charitable status: a total of 999 schools.  This is a politically contentious issue, with recent proposals from both Labour and the Conservatives seeking respectively to remove independent schools’ ability to take charitable status, or place conditions on their ability to do so.

This briefing provides a broad overview of issues relevant to independent schools that are frequently encountered by Members of Parliament in their work.  It does not attempt to cover all issues relevant to independent schools.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7972

Author: Robert Long

Topics: Ofsted, Schools, Special educational needs

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