The deadline for secondary school applications has passed, leaving an anxious wait for parents keen to know whether their child has their first choice school for next September. Others may have already decided on an independent education.
But with the best performing state schools jostling for position with independents at the top of the league tables, why pay for something that the state provides free at the point of delivery?
In 2016 researchers at Durham University compiled a study which equated attending an independent school in England with two additional years of schooling by the age of 16. The research, which stripped out factors such as background and prior ability, also revealed that independent schooling accounts for 0.64 of a GCSE grade increase and produces higher average scores in all GCSE subjects.
The cause of these differences is the subject of much debate, but independent schools do have the advantage of freedom to make decisions in the best educational interests of their students. They can select courses and exam curricula that play to the strengths of their staff and students, stimulating enthusiasm for a subject and promoting good learning habits.
How to teach these courses is another area where independent schools enjoy autonomy. Some choose the ‘diamond model’, combining the academic advantages of single sex education, shown consistently in the league tables, with the social benefits of coeducation.
This model is successful at The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL), where girls and boys are taught separately between Years 7 and 11. Pupils achieve excellent academic outcomes and are free from the gender stereotypes that might lead them to focus on science or humanities subjects, while remaining part of a coeducational school community from ages three to 18.
Though academic value added in the independent sector may be unsurprising, school life is about much more than exam grades. Every school aspires to offer a well-rounded education with experiences beyond the classroom to prepare students for whatever challenges they will face in the world.
The latest census from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) indicates that at ISC schools pupils spend over four hours a week on sporting activities, double the national figure, and up to two hours per week in performing arts activities. Nearly two thirds of ISC schools reported that they have formal character education programmes in place.
With independent schools currently educating around 7% of children in England, you might assume this option is reserved for the privileged few. However, independent schools are committed to improving the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, actively fundraising to offer bursaries to children who show ability and potential regardless of their financial circumstances. At ISC schools 33% of pupils receive fee assistance; at GSAL over 140 pupils currently receive a means-tested bursary and are thriving at the school.
GSAL is accepting applications for sixth form bursaries from students seeking 2019 entry to Year 12. For further information visit Gsal.org.uk.