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Private school

Private school

Private schools, also known to many as independent schools, non-governmental, privately funded, or non-state schools,[1] are not administered by local, state or national governments. Children who attend private schools may be there because they are dissatisfied with public schools in their area. They may be selected for their academic prowess, or prowess in other fields, or sometimes their religious background. Private schools retain the right to select their students and are funded in whole or in part by charging their students for tuition, rather than relying on mandatory taxation through public (government) funding; at some private schools students may be able to get a scholarship, lowering this tuition fee, dependent on a student's talents or abilities (e.g. sport scholarship, art scholarship, academic scholarship), need for financial aid, or tax credit scholarships[2] that might be available. Some private schools are associated with a particular religion, such as Judaism, Roman Catholicism, or Lutheranism. For the past century, roughly one in 10 U.S families has chosen to enroll their children in private school.[3]

Types of private schools

In the United Kingdom and several other Commonwealth countries including Australia and Canada, the use of the term is generally restricted to primary and secondary educational levels; it is almost never used of universities and other tertiary institutions.[4] Private education in North America covers the whole gamut of educational activity, ranging from pre-school to tertiary level institutions.[5] Annual tuition fees at K-12 schools range from nothing at so called 'tuition-free' schools to more than $45,000 at several New England preparatory schools.[6]

The secondary level includes schools offering years 7 through 12 (year twelve is known as lower sixth) and year 13 (upper sixth). This category includes university-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 school's financial endowment.[7] 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 and many military academies are privately owned or operated as well.

Religiously affiliated and denominational schools form a subcategory of private schools. Some such schools teach religious education, together with the usual academic subjects to impress their particular faith's beliefs and traditions in the students who attend. 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,[8] a term which is often used to denote Roman Catholic schools. Other religious groups represented in the K–12 private education sector include Protestants, Jews, Muslims and the Orthodox Christians.

Many educational alternatives, such as independent schools, are also privately financed.[9] 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


Private schools are one of three types of school in Australia, the other two being government schools (state schools) and religious. 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 favored for many reasons: prestige and the social status of the "old school tie"; better quality physical infrastructure and more facilities (e.g. playing fields, swimming pools, 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 based on their power of expulsion, a tool not readily available to government schools. Student uniforms for Australian private schools are generally stricter and more formal than in government schools – for example, a compulsory blazer. Private schools in Australia are always more expensive than their public counterparts[10]

There are two main categories of private schools in Australia: Catholic schools and Independent schools.[11]

Catholic schools

Catholic schools form the second largest sector after government schools, with around 21% of secondary enrollments.[12] 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.

Catholic schools, both systemic and independent, typically have a strong religious focus, and usually most of their staff and students will be Catholic.[11]

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, such as the Anglican Church, Uniting Church and Presbyterian Church, 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. St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace, Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview, St Gregory's College, Campbelltown, St Aloysius' College (Sydney) and St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, as well as Loreto Kirribilli, Monte Sant Angelo Mercy College and Loreto Normanhurst for girls.

Lower-fee independent schools exist and are often conducted by religious affiliations such as the Greek Orthodox church and other less prominent Christian denominations.


In 1999, 5.6% of Canadian students were enrolled in private schools,[13] some of which are religious or faith-based schools, including Christian, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic schools. Some private schools in Canada are considered world class, especially some boarding schools with a long and illustrious history. Private schools have sometimes been controversial, with some[14] in the media and in Ontario's Provincial Ministry of Education asserting that students may buy inflated grades from private schools.[15]


The right to create private schools in Germany is in Article 7, Paragraph 4 of the Grundgesetz and cannot be suspended even in a state of emergency. 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 event in the future. Still, they are less common than in many other countries. Overall, between 1992 and 2008 the percent of pupils in such schools in Germany increased from 6.1% to 7.8% (including rise from 0.5% to 6.1% in the former GDR). Percent of students in private high schools reached 11.1%.[16]

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 offer the same types of diplomas as public schools. Ersatzschulen lack the freedom to operate completely outside government regulation. Teachers at Ersatzschulen must have at least the same education and at least the same wages as teachers at public schools, an Ersatzschule must have at least the same academic standards as 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 Sonderungsverbot). Therefore, most Ersatzschulen have very low tuition fees and/or offer scholarships, compared to most other Western European countries. However, it is not possible to finance these schools with such low tuition fees, which is why all German Ersatzschulen are additionally financed with public funds. The percentages of public money could reach 100% of the personnel expenditures. Nevertheless, Private Schools became insolvent in the past in Germany.

Ergänzungsschulen are secondary or post-secondary (non-tertiary) schools, which are run by private individuals, private organizations or rarely, religious groups and offer a type of education which is not available at public schools. Most of these schools are vocational schools. However, these vocational schools are not part of the German dual education system. Ergänzungsschulen have the freedom to operate outside government regulation and are funded in whole by charging their students tuition fees.


In Italy, private schools account for about one-fifth of the Italian schools, as education is predominantly public. About one out of 10 Italian students attends a private school, while others go to public school. The Italian constitution states that education be public, free[17] and compulsory for at least 8 years.

The majority of schools not administered by the state are Catholic. In the period 2008–2009 Catholic schools were about 57% of all private schools, with a tendency to decrease.


In India, private schools are called independent schools, but since some private schools receive financial aid from the government, it can be an aided or an unaided school. So, in a strict sense, a private school is an unaided independent school. For the purpose of this definition, only receipt of financial aid is considered, not land purchased from the government at a subsidized rate. It is within the power of both the union government and the state governments to govern schools since Education appears in the Concurrent list of legislative subjects in the constitution. The practice has been for the union government to provide the broad policy directions while the states create their own rules and regulations for the administration of the sector. Among other things, this has also resulted in 30 different Examination Boards or academic authorities that conduct examinations for school leaving certificates. Prominent Examination Boards that are present in multiple states are the CBSE and the CISCE, NENBSE

Legally, only non-profit trusts and societies can run schools in India. They will have to satisfy a number of infrastructure and human resource related criteria to get Recognition (a form of license) from the government. Critics of this system point out that this leads to corruption by school inspectors who check compliance and to fewer schools in a country that has the largest adult illiterate population in the world. While official data does not capture the real extent of private schooling in the country, various studies have reported unpopularity of government schools and an increasing number of private schools. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which evaluates learning levels in rural India, has been reporting poorer academic achievement in government schools than in private schools. A key difference between the government and private schools is that the medium of education in private schools is English while it is the local language in government schools.


In Indonesia, private schools are usually in larger cities. All private schools in Indonesia are established by foundations. The costs of education are not subsidised from the government. The differences between private schools and public schools depends on each school. Each private school applies policies from the Indonesian Government, and all private schools give the opportunity of additional activities whether cultural or for sport.


In Ireland, private schools (Irish: scoil phríobháideach) are unusual because a certain number of teacher's salaries are paid by the State. If the school wishes to employ extra teachers they are paid for with school fees, which tend to be relatively low in Ireland compared to the rest of the world. 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, i.e., the Society of Jesus or Congregation of Christian Brothers, etc. The major private schools being Blackrock College, Clongowes Wood College, Castleknock College, Belvedere College, Gonzaga College and Terenure College.

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


In Lebanon the vast majority of students attend private schools, most of which are owned and operated by the Maronite Church. Government owned schools do exist, but only a small percentage of the population attend these aging structures, most of which were built in the mid-twentieth century. Educational standards are very high in Lebanon, but only those who can afford them are found in these schools. This presents a massive issue as not only does it place a burden on parents and younger families, but it also prevents certain individuals from realizing their full potential.

Lebanon utilizes an unusual mixed system, with French, English and American systems intertwining, sometimes in the same facility. As of 2015, approximately 85% of Secondary and High School graduates continued on to university.


Chinese schools were being founded by the ethnic Chinese in Malaya as early as the 19th century. The schools were set up with the main intention of providing education in the Chinese language. As such, their students remain largely Chinese to this day even though the school themselves are open to people of all races and backgrounds.

After Malaysia's independence in 1957, the government instructed all schools to surrender their properties and be assimilated into the National School system. This caused an uproar among the Chinese and a compromise was achieved in that the schools would instead become "National Type" schools. Under such a system, the government is only in charge of the school curriculum and teaching personnel while the lands still belonged to the schools. While Chinese primary schools were allowed to retain Chinese as the medium of instruction, Chinese secondary schools are required to change into English-medium schools. Over 60 schools converted to become National Type schools.


In much of Nepal, 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 minimal fees.

The other category of schools are those run and partly or fully funded by private individuals, private organizations and religious groups. 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 Galaxy Public School in Kathmandu. 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, Nepali and/or the state's official language is also taught. Preschool education is mostly limited to organized neighbourhood nursery schools.


In The Netherlands over two-thirds of state-funded schools operate autonomously, with many of these schools being linked to faith groups.[18] The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, ranks the education in the Netherlands as the 9th best in the world as of 2008, being significantly higher than the OECD average.[19]

New Zealand

As of April 2014, there were 88 private schools in New Zealand, catering for around 28,000 students or 3.7% of the entire student population.[20] Private school numbers have been in decline since the mid-1970s as a result of many private schools opting to become state-integrated schools, mostly due of financial difficulties stemming from changes in student numbers and/or the economy. State-integrated schools keep their private school special character and receives state funds in return for having to operate like a state school, e.g. they must teach the state curriculum, they must employ registered teachers, and they can't charge tuition fees (they can charge "attendance dues" for the upkeep on the still-private school land and buildings). The largest decline in private school numbers occurred between 1979 and 1984, when the nation's then-private Catholic school system integrated. As a result, private schools in New Zealand are now largely restricted to the largest cities (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch) and niche markets.

Private schools are almost fully funded by tuition fees paid by students' parents, but they do receive some government subsidies. Private schools are popular for academic and sporting performance, prestige, exclusivity and old boys/girls networks; however, many state-integrated schools and some prestigious single-sex state schools, such as Auckland Grammar School and Wellington College, are actively competitive with private schools in academic and sporting achievement, history and character.

Private schools are often Anglican, such as King's College and Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, St Paul's Collegiate School in Hamilton, St Peter's School in Cambridge, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington, and Christ's College and St Margaret's College in Christchurch; or Presbyterian, such as Saint Kentigern College and St Cuthbert's College in Auckland, Scots College and Queen Margaret College in Wellington, and St Andrew's College and Rangi Ruru Girls' School in Christchurch. However, the Catholic schismatic group, the Society of St Pius X in Wanganui operates three private schools (including the secondary school, St Dominic's College).

A recent group of private schools run as a business has been formed by Academic Colleges Group; with schools throughout Auckland, including ACG Senior College in Auckland's CBD, ACG Parnell College in Parnell, and international school ACG New Zealand International College.


Oman retains a number of independent private coeducational day schools of international renown and a majority of which are private educational grammar establishments offering Classics beyond Latin and Greek to include the ancient literary studies of Sanskrit, Hebrew and Arabic. Notable ones include the American British Academy, the British School Muscat, the Pakistan School Muscat, the Indian School Al Ghubra and The Sultan's School (also see List of Private Schools in Oman).


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 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).


In Portugal, private schools were traditionally set up by foreign expatriates and diplomats in order to cater for their educational needs. Portuguese speaking private schools are mainly concentrated in Lisbon and Porto. The Ministério da Educação acts as the supervisory and regulatory body for all schools, including international schools.


In Singapore, after Primary School Leaving Examination or PSLE for short, students can choose to enter a private high school. (“Private Schools.” Private Schools in Singapore | Private Education, www.actualyse.com/prv/private-schools.aspx?c=SG&alang=en.)

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[21] recognizes two categories of schools: "public" (state-controlled) and "independent" (which includes traditional private schools and schools which are privately governed).

In the final years of the apartheid era, parents at white government schools were given the option to convert to a "semi-private" form called Model C, and many of these schools changed their admissions policies to accept children of other races. Following the transition to democracy, the legal form of "Model C" was abolished, however, the term continues to be used to describe government schools formerly reserved for white children.[22] These schools tend to produce better academic results than government schools formerly reserved for other race groups.[23] Former "Model C" schools are not private schools, as they are state-controlled. All schools in South Africa (including both independent schools and public schools) have the right to set compulsory school fees, and formerly model C schools tend to set much higher school fees than other public schools.


In Sweden, pupils are free to choose a private school and the private school gets paid the same amount as municipal schools. Over 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in private schools in 2008. Sweden is internationally known for this innovative school voucher model that provides Swedish pupils with the opportunity to choose the school they prefer.[24][25][26][27][28] For instance, the biggest school chain, Kunskapsskolan (“The Knowledge School”), offers 30 schools and a web-based environment, has 700 employees and teaches nearly 10,000 pupils.[24] The Swedish system has been recommended to Barack Obama.[29]

United Kingdom

Non-governmental schools generally prefer to be called independent schools, because of their freedom to operate outside government and local government control. Some of these are also known as public schools, as they are open to enrolment from anywhere in the world. Preparatory schools in England and Wales prepare pupils up to 13 years old to enter "public schools", meaning independent senior schools. In Scotland, where the education system has always been separate from the rest of Great Britain, the term “public school” is used to refer to state schools, which are for the general public.

According to The Good Schools Guide about 9% of children being educated in the United Kingdom are at fee-paying schools at GCSE level and 13% at A-level. Some independent schools are single-sex, although this is becoming less common.[30] Fees range from under £3,000 to £21,000 and above per year for day pupils, rising to £27,000+ per year for boarders.[31] For details in Scotland, see the linked article "Meeting the Cost".[32]

On August 15, 2010 The Observer reported that the gap in A-Level achievement between independent schools and state schools in the UK was set to widen, with three times as many independently educated students achieving the new grade A*. The paper also noted that according to the "fair access watchdog" bright students from the poorest backgrounds were seven times less likely to go to a top university than their richer peers.[33]

However, one in four independently-educated children come from postcodes with the national average income or below, and one in three receives assistance with school fees.[34] However, pupils' actual family incomes, which may be below or above the average for a particular postcode area, were not determined.

Evidence from a major longitudinal study suggests that British independent schools provide advantages in educational attainment and access to top universities,[35] and that graduates of such schools have a labour market advantage, even controlling for their educational qualifications.[36]

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. The majority of private schools in the United States are operated by religious institutions and organizations.[37]

Private schools are generally exempt from most educational regulations at the Federal level but are highly regulated at the state level.[38] These typically require them 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.

In the nineteenth century, as a response to the perceived domination of the public school systems by Protestant political and religious ideas, many Roman 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.[39]

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, private schools.

In many parts of the United States, after the 1954 decision in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that demanded United States schools desegregate "with all deliberate speed", local families organized a wave of private "Christian academies". In much of the U.S. South, many white students migrated to the academies, while public schools became in turn more heavily concentrated with African-American students (see List of private schools in Mississippi). The academic content of the academies was usually College Preparatory. Since the 1970s, many of these "segregation academies" have shut down, although some continue to operate.

Funding for private schools is generally provided through student tuition, endowments, scholarship/school voucher funds, 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 the courts' interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or individual state Blaine Amendments. Non-religious private schools theoretically could qualify for such funding without hassle, preferring the advantages of independent control of their student admissions and course content instead of the public funding they could get with charter status.

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.

Private schooling in the United States has been debated by educators, lawmakers and parents, since the beginnings of compulsory education in Massachusetts in 1852. The 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, which is below described.[40]

As of 2012, quality private schools in the United States charged substantial tuition, close to $40,000 annually for day schools in New York City, and nearly $50,000 for boarding schools. However, tuition did not cover operating expenses, particularly at boarding schools. The leading schools such as the Groton School had substantial endowments running to hundreds of millions of dollars supplemented by fundraising drives. Boarding schools with a reputation for quality in the United States have a student body drawn from throughout the country, indeed the globe, and a list of applicants which far exceeds their capacity.[41]

See also

  • Alternative school

  • Boarding school

  • Catholic school

  • Charter school

  • Convention against Discrimination in Education

  • Freedom of education

  • List of Friends schools

  • Independent school

  • Independent school (UK)

  • Ivy League

  • Lutheran school

  • Private university

  • Public school (government funded)

  • Public school (UK)

  • Religious education

  • Voucher


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