The United Kingdom is the home of one of the world's most prestigious education systems, renowned for its comprehensive national curriculum and large variety of academic institutions to choose from. When choosing an ideal secondary school, a major problem that many Hong Kongers face is deciding between state schools and private schools; this is because the definition of each as well as the difference between the two are relatively hard to pin down. Therefore, in this article, I aim to define and compare multiple elements of these two types of schools, as this may potentially help inform your decision of which school to attend in the UK.
The definitions of state schools and private schools in the UK strongly differs from its definitions in the Hong Kong education system. In Hong Kong, the terms public schools and state schools are often used interchangeably, as both refer to schools that are subsidised or fully funded by the government. On the other hand, private schools are run by private organizations, as school fees are mainly paid by parents. Many are also international schools that uses international academic curriculums instead of local mainstream qualifications such as the HKDSE.
However, the term public school has an entirely different definition in the UK education system. Public schools are perceived as the most exclusive and prestigious private schools in the UK, as well-known examples include Eton College, Harrow School and Wellington College. Most public schools are highly selective, as many contain boarding facilities for students as well. Such term is indeed highly confusing owing to the traditional definition of the word 'public' as academic institutions that are independent from the English church and government. Apart from public schools, the other two forms of fee-paying schools in the UK include private schools and independent schools. Whilst independent schools are overseen by a board of governors or trustees, private schools are run by the owners, thus are comparatively more selective. On the contrary, government-funded schools are labelled as state schools, as most provide education free of charge. Some students from state schools will also be selected to attend more academically-oriented secondary schools called grammar schools through the 11-plus exam. However, international students must have a British or European Union passport in order to enroll into a state school.
Whilst deciding between state schools or private schools, many parents are most concerned about the academic potential and performance of both, along with the future academic and career prospects they provide. Statistically speaking, over 60% of current Oxbridge students are from private schools or grammar schools (Bulman, The Independent); still, state schools must not be perceived as academically insufficient in comparison to private schools, as many have seen a progressive improvement in their A-Level exam results in the past few years. Moreover, over the past few years, the Oxbridge Admissions team have been adamant at boosting diversity by admitting students from a wider range of academic, financial and ethnic backgrounds. Apart from school fees, the greatest difference between state and private schools is the facilities and opportunities they provide. As the key objective of most private schools is to train high-achieving students to enter top universities, many have established a specialized working system and schedule that specifically targets such needs. Given their greater resources, private schools tend to offer more subjects for students to choose from; many of these include arts and humanities subjects including psychology, drama, music and media studies. Many subjects are also taught in small class sizes, which provides students the chance to interact more with teachers and have their attention. This can significantly improve class participation and interest in learning, as teachers will be able to cater to the learning styles of different students and give more constructive feedback. Private schools also offer a wider range of extra-curricular activities and puts effort into helping students build a professional network at an early age. In addition, private schools tend to place an emphasis on offering more support for struggling students or students with learning difficulties.
In terms of national qualifications, students from both private and state schools are required to study the GCSE academic curriculum, as many will continue studying A-Levels before entering university or seeking an apprenticeship. Yet, some private schools may choose to use the IB or Cambridge Pre-U qualifications instead, which may be more suited to some students' academic abilities and expectations. 91.3% of pupils in the UK study in state schools (Department of Education 3), which may contribute to a lesser sense of social exclusivity in these academic institutions. State schools maintain a more standardized education system, including the national curriculum they follow and conditions for teachers such as employment standards and pay. Contrary to popular belief, state schools can be viewed as equally, or even more competitive than private schools, as many have pushed to build a stronger work ethic among students to strive for greater academic achievements. According to a study conducted by the University College London, there is "no evidence that management practices in private schools in Britain are more advanced than in state schools"; this suggests an equal potential for strong productivity and efficiency for both state and private schools. Moreover, the academic potential of state schools may also be determined by where they are located geographically, as some areas have a more academically-driven culture and provide more government funding for their local state schools. Such widened resources and emphasis on education may improve the quality of teaching and opportunities offered in these state schools, as some are even viewed at the same level as other esteemed public schools.
I sincerely hope that the information I have provided will have given you a brief insight into what state schools and private schools are like in the UK. Thus, I wish you the best of luck in your future studies!