The top 9 myths about private school

Private schools have a long history in the UK, and the mythology around them has seeped into our culture.

Whilst Eton is famous for churning out prime ministers, politicians and princes, is it really all about the old boys’ network? Maybe your impression of private school comes from Malory Towers or St Trinian’s? Does private school fill your mind with miniature Bertie Wooster? (both Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were private school boys, after all.) Or are they full of terrifying headmasters, like the ones stalking the pages of Roald Dahl’s ‘Boy’?

Perhaps you imagine private school is a bit like Hogwarts but without the moving staircases and talking hats?

The way independent schools are portrayed on television and in literature is probably far from accurate, but what are they really like? Let’s look at some of the myths about private schools and find out whether there’s any truth behind them.

Private school myth #1: Private schools can force your child to be more academic

A hand writing on a chalkboard

Private schools are renowned for their smaller class sizes, and while it’s probably true that the extra teacher attention will help boost your child’s learning – especially in junior years – private school is unlikely to change their interests dramatically. Independent schools usually offer very high-quality facilities and teaching for broader curriculum topics such as sports, music and creative arts.

Far from pushing students towards ever-greater academic attainment, lots of top private schools, like Harrow, are cutting down on academic subjects to offer a more enriched curriculum.

Related content: Everything you need to know about private schools.

Private school myth #2: Everyone will come from incredibly well-off families

It’s undeniable that, sadly, private school is out of reach for many families because of the cost of school fees, but that doesn’t mean independent schools are just for the super-rich.

Some schools are more affordable than others (not every private school charges the same), and secondly, most private schools offer means-tested bursaries and academically-awarded scholarships to families who’d otherwise struggle to pay tuition fees.

And, of course, private education can be more affordable than you think – with clever financial planning, it’s possible for you to fund private school without having to forego other lifestyle dreams.

Private school myth #3: Children are better behaved if they attend private school

A group of school children reading

This isn’t as clear-cut as you might expect. Many private schools focus on building character and confidence, humility and happiness in children, like Barnard Castle School. But recent research by the University of York found that, although there are fewer behavioural problems at independent schools, children at private schools are more likely to be bullied during their secondary education. They’re also significantly more likely to take risks, and are younger than their state school counterparts when they begin drinking alcohol.

Private school myth #4: Children who attend private school become spoilt

There’s a growing awareness within teaching that it’s important for children to encounter difficulty during their formative years – and even to fail, with the right support network around them. If they don’t, they won’t develop a sense of maturity and resilience.

Tony Little, former headteacher at Eton College, fears children who haven’t had the resilience-building experience of failure would be ill-equipped for struggles in adult life.

Some private schools even offer empathy classes, and many, like Fulham, practise mindfulness every day, helping pupils to become aware of their emotions and wellbeing.

Just because your child attends private school does not mean they will be spoilt. This is very much a stereotypical view of privately educated children. As seen above, many private schools offer classes and learnings that help children empathise or build resilience, and obviously, this is something you can teach at home too!

Private school myth #5: Private school guarantees a good university

Oxford University

While this may have been true in the past, in recent years, top universities have become keener to encourage students from all backgrounds to apply.

In fact, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University recently said that Oxford and Cambridge intend to reduce the number of students from independent schools by welcoming more talented young people from state schools. Academically able pupils from private schools will still be welcome, but they’ll be in greater competition with state school peers.

Related content: Is private school worth it?

Private school myth #6: Teachers are more qualified at private schools

This is another myth that’s largely wrong, but has a grain of truth at its core. The vast majority of teachers at private schools will have studied at the same schools and universities as their state school colleagues. However, since private schools offer greater freedom in the taught curriculum – and sometimes higher rates of pay – they’re in a stronger position to attract teachers with higher qualifications or broader experiences outside academia.

Private school myth #7: Private schools are only for ‘clever’ children

Although most private schools for pupils over 11 ask children to sit an entrance exam, each school sets its own pass mark, and they also invite children to an interview.

Children over the age of 7 are often asked to take tests too, and children below this age are invited for a taster day at the school.

So although schools are looking for engaged, able children, they don’t necessarily need to be ‘clever’ to attend.

Besides, a recent study by UCL found that the fantastic facilities provided by private schools were one of the main drivers of better A-level results. So it’s more about giving your child the opportunities to thrive, than them being assessed and labelled in the first place.

Private school myth #8: Going to private school guarantees a dream job

A child in a smart suit wearing a cardboard plane costume

It’s well known that if your child dreams of political office, they could do worse than attending Eton, the alma mater of no fewer than 20 of Britain’s 55 prime ministers.

But it’s not just politics that’s dominated by former private school students, some of the best-known names in the UK are products of the private school system.

On stage and screen, big names like Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Florence Pugh, Tom Hiddleston, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Miranda Hart all had a private education.

When it comes to sports, 32% of Britain’s Olympic medallists were privately educated (set that against 7% of the general population going to private schools), and one individual school, Millfield, comes top for producing international-level rugby players – and with 18 specialist coaches on hand, maybe that’s no wonder.

The Royal Family are all privately educated, and so are the figures who’ve married into the establishment, too – with Kate Middleton, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Meghan Markle and Mike Tindall (who also fits in the category of sportspeople from private education) all coming from private schools.

And on the foodie scene, top food writers Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Giles Coren attended fee-paying schools, too.

But, whilst private school protegees may be overrepresented in the public eye, children still have to work hard at what they do to get the careers of their dreams. Top-flight facilities and tutors don’t hurt, though.

Private school myth #9: Paying independent school fees means you have to push back your retirement plans or abandon your dreams of buying a second home

Private schooling comes at a cost. Many families worry they’d have to make significant compromises to their lifestyle or future financial goals if they decide to send their child to an independent school.

But that’s simply not true.

For many parents, it’s entirely possible to plan their finances so they can comfortably afford school fees without neglecting the holidays, homes and early retirement they want.

Now that we’ve busted the private school myths, Eden can put together a School Fees Plan to help you give your child the education of their dreams – without giving up on your visions for the future. Contact us to find out more.