In simple terms, private schools cater for ages 3 up to 18 and parents must pay termly fees charged by the school. State schools also cater for up to age 18 and are free to UK citizens (plus EU for the moment subject to the outcome of Brexit in 2019). In practice other International residents with UK visas can also apply for state schools.
Private schools can generally be expected to achieve superior exam results at 16 and 18 with a significant proportion of leaving pupils going on to University. For mild SEN conditions in mainstream private schools, the children should be capable of the same success. For more severe SEN children there are different considerations. Specialist private SEN schools can have outstanding learning provision with a number of staff specifically qualified in SEN teaching. However they can be extremely expensive. Additionally they often do not go beyond age 16.
Which schools can you choose?
With state schools you can only apply to 3 preferred schools if you live in their eligibility area and in major cities like London these areas of residence can be very small geographically – as small as a radius of 500 metres. Furthermore the allocation is done by the Local Education Authority and there will typically be too high a demand for highly ranked or faith schools resulting in many parents being given alternatives. For private schools there is no catchment area as such. The location is determined by how far a parent is prepared to do the school run on time each day. However, be aware that private school pupils often stay late to participate in extra curricular activities or even say to do homework – thus the journey to collect children from school can result in a very long day.
Availability of places?
Increasing birth rates and immigration have placed huge pressures on the state sector for junior ages. In 2018, 60% of local authorities will have a shortfall of local primary places. In 2017 it is estimated that there were 4.5 million children in state primaries with a deficiency of 155,000 places. However, it is not just the absolute numbers which cause concern. In London two thirds of children were born to families where one or more parents were non UK born. In addition it is reckoned that 10,000 immigrant children of primary age are being admitted to UK state schools each year. In turn this is placing huge pressure on classes where sometimes a substantial proportion of children speak limited English. The situation is most acute in London, Manchester , Birmingham and Kent.
The result is a mad scramble by parents for state primaries for well ranked schools which become very oversubscribed, with non admitted children being reallocated often to schools not desired by parents. One problem is that 18% of the total 16,700 primaries are rated as inadequate or requiring improvement.
In contrast to the state sector’s 16,700 primaries , the private sector has around 1,800 preps by our definition (we exclude small schools and those who do not cover the range 7 to 11 years old). However there is still quite a lot of space availability because the private sector is basically influenced on parents’ ability to pay. Schools will discount fees to fill available places. However in Greater London availability is much more acute, with well ranked private schools sometimes demanding applications several years in advance and running large waiting lists.
What is the difference in SEN provision?
State schools are basically obligated to take their allocation of places from their catchment area and they are also obligated to accept SEN children and provide adequate and appropriate facilities for them. If they cannot provide appropriate provision they basically ask the Local Authority to assist. The LA will assess the child and prescribe an EHCP (previously called a Statement of Special Educational Needs. ) This EHCP may provide the funding for external teaching resources or even pay for the child to attend a private school. Unfortunately, there are many instances of inadequate SEN provision in the state sector and we receive numerous enquiries for help from parents wishing to transfer their children to private schools.
Unlike most state schools, private schools can select the children they wish to admit. Although there are a considerable number of SEN children in private schools, they tend to only accept the milder SEN cases, where such children can keep pace with rest of the children on the school’s curriculum. A typical mainstream private schools might have one SENCO and one or two visiting therapists. For more severe SEN cases there are more than 200 specialist SEN schools with excellent provision, which sometimes amounts to more than 10 therapists. Such schools are typically really happy learning environments, but the annual school fees are often way beyond the reach of the average family unless they can get financial support from the Local Authority.
So how do you choose between private and state?
If you cannot afford a private school, you may have little choice, but do bear in mind there can be substantial bursaries in many private schools.
We are inevitably more inclined to private schools because our business focuses entirely on finding the best private school and we do not advise on choice of state schools. Nevertheless we are impartial and honest in all of our assignments for parents. Do not be afraid to ask for our help even if you have a restricted budget. Phone us on +44 (0) 1622 813870.