What are the Best Private Schools in the UK?

Welcome to your comprehensive guide to the best private schools in the UK.

With over 2,500 private schools in the country, navigating the varied landscape of secondary education can be a daunting task. With so many schools to choose from, how can you know which is best? And more importantly, which private school is best for your child?

In this article, we’ll present the top ten private schools in the country and answer parents’ most pressing questions. Whether you’re looking for schools with historic prestige or modern establishments at the cutting edge of education, we’ve got you covered.

What is a private school in the UK?

Private schools are essentially any school that isn’t funded by the government. This usually means parents are responsible for paying their child’s tuition fees.

Yearly fees can range anywhere from £3,000 to £50,000 or more. Most schools offer limited bursaries and scholarships to help with these costs, but competition is understandably fierce.

Because they aren’t funded by the government, private schools have more autonomy surrounding what they teach (although they’ll still meet National Curriculum requirements). They often feature smaller class sizes and impressive facilities such as modern science labs, arts spaces, sports provision, beautiful buildings and more.

What are the best private schools in the UK?

In the Sunday Times Parent Power Guide for 2024, many private schools maintained their stellar reputation for academic excellence and pastoral care. While St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith stayed firmly on top, it was closely followed by other leading secondaries quickly climbing the ranks.

Here are the top ten best private schools in the UK.

1. St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London

Found in Hammersmith, West London, St Paul’s Girls’ School has maintained its position at the top of the pile. 

Compared with many of the UK’s private schools, it’s relatively new – founded in 1904. Despite this, St Paul’s is renowned for its focus on academic excellence and creativity. 

With fees just short of £30,000 a year, it’s certainly exclusive. We’ll go into more detail on what makes this school so special later in this article.

2. Guildford High School, Surrey

Guildford High School has a distinguished reputation for academic achievement and holistic development. Established in 1888, it offers a nurturing environment where girls aged 4 to 18 can thrive academically and personally. 

The school’s historic campus includes charming Victorian buildings complemented by modern facilities, including advanced IT suites and a dedicated art studio. Fees are around £20,000 a year.

3. St Paul’s School, Barnes,  London

St Paul’s School in Barnes, Southwest London, is one of the oldest and most prestigious private schools for boys. Established in 1509, it has a rich history of academic excellence and leadership development. 

The school’s riverside campus offers stunning views of the River Thames and features historic buildings alongside modern facilities. All this prestige doesn’t come cheap however, with annual fees approaching £45,000.

4. North London Collegiate School, Edgware, London

North London Collegiate School is renowned for its academic rigour and global outlook. Founded in 1850, it’s one of the oldest girls’ schools in the UK. Fees are up to £24,000 a year.

The school has a strong tradition of fostering intellectual curiosity and social responsibility, with notable alumni including Vogue Editor Anna Wintour and suffragette Dorothy Evans.

5. City of London School for Girls, Barbican, London

City of London School for Girls offers a stimulating and exciting education for girls aged 7 to 18.

Established in 1894, it has a long history of academic excellence and creative development. The school’s urban campus features plenty of state-of-the-art facilities and a fully-equipped sports hall. Current fees are just under £24,000 a year.

6. Tonbridge School, Kent

Tonbridge School is one of the oldest and most prestigious independent boarding schools for boys aged 13 to 18. Founded in 1553, it has a distinguished history of academic excellence and sporting achievement. 

The school’s extensive campus spans 150 acres of picturesque grounds along the River Medway. Fees cost up to £46,700 a year. 

7. King’s College School, Wimbledon, London

King’s College School is an esteemed independent day school for boys aged 7 to 18. 

Established in 1829, it offers a supportive environment where students thrive academically and personally. You’ll find impressive Victorian buildings set amongst leafy grounds and a strong extracurricular programme. Fees are up to £26,000 a year.

=7. Magdalen College School, Oxford

In joint seventh place is Magdalen College School, found among the dreaming spires of Oxford. 

Established in 1480, it’s one of the leading private day schools for boys aged 7 to 18. The school boasts a mix of medieval buildings and strong pastoral care, with fees up to £22,000 a year.

9. Westminster School, London

Westminster School is one of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in the UK. 

Established in 1179, it has a distinguished history of academic excellence, intellectual inquiry and leadership development. The school’s iconic campus is situated next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, offering a historic and inspiring setting for learning and personal growth. Fees are up to £30,000 a year.

10. King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham

Last but not least is King Edward VI High School for Girls. Situated in Edgbaston, Birmingham, it’s a renowned independent day school for girls aged 11 to 18. 

Established in 1883, it offers a supportive environment with well-equipped classrooms, a state-of-the-art sports hall and plenty of extracurricular enrichment. Fees are up to £17,000 a year.

What are the top three private schools in the UK?

As we’ve seen above, the top three private schools in the UK are:

  1. St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith (London)
  2. Guildford High School, Guildford (Surrey)
  3. St Paul’s School, Barnes (London)

To reach the top of nationwide rankings, each school prizes high academic achievement – with some of the best A Level and GCSE performances in the country.

As well as academics, all three foster strong pride and confidence in their pupils, preparing them for the world of university, work and beyond. Of course you’d expect a bespoke education and the best facilities money can buy, (including fun second-hand thrift stores, art galleries and concert halls), but even more importantly, these schools fully support and nurture the pupils in their care.

For more excellent schools, take a look at our list of the Best Grammar Schools in the UK, Grammars without a Catchment Area and the Best Grammar Schools in London.

What is the number one private school in the UK?

St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith is officially the number one private school in the UK. In fact, it’s topped the Sunday Times league table ten times in the past eleven years.

At the heart of St Paul’s Girls’ School’s outstanding reputation is its ethos. The school has a fun and energetic atmosphere with a creative, liberal teaching ideology.

There are few rules (for instance one Year 8 Biology assignment only stipulated it “must include a cheese sandwich”) and students don’t wear uniforms. The school works alongside students to provide a bespoke education tailored to their interests.

While St Paul’s says their education isn’t “just about passing exams” – they boast some of the most impressive exam results in the country. Just over 80% of GCSE entries secured a Grade 9, while 94% achieved an 8 or a 9. At A Level, 87% achieved A*s or As while 97% were awarded Bs or higher.

What is the most elite school in the UK?

If there’s one school considered the most “elite” in the UK, it’s Eton College.

Founded in 1440, Eton is one of the most famous and exclusive private schools in the world. It occupies a stunning campus just outside the historic town of Windsor.

Over 20 British Prime Ministers attended this prestigious school (it’s not nicknamed “the chief nurse of England’s statesmen for nothing!), alongside countless other luminaries from the world of business, culture, politics and royalty. Both Prince William and Prince Harry attended Eton.

As well as famous alumni, Eton prides itself on its high number of successful Oxbridge candidates, as well as securing places at leading Russell Group and Non-Russell Group institutions (such as the University of St Andrews).

Eton is also one of the most expensive schools in the country, with yearly tuition fees starting from £42,000.

Which UK city has the best private schools?

There’s one city that’s head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to private schools – and it’s London.

Around 20% of the UK population attended a private school. But this number increases to 33% for people living in London.

London has the highest concentration of private schools too. There are over 450 private schools in Greater London, including 25 private boarding schools.

In terms of quality, no fewer than six of the Sunday Times top ten private schools are based in Greater London. So if you’re searching for a city to give your child the best possible education – you can’t go far wrong with London.

Which private schools are hardest to get into?

If you’re considering sending your child to one of the country’s leading private schools, you’re probably also wondering how hard it is to secure a place.

Most private schools set their own 11 Plus exams. There’s often an interview too. The more prestigious (and better known) the school, the harder they are to get into. You’re often competing not just with UK applicants, but students around the world.

While strong academic performance is essential, these schools also look for well-rounded pupils who are the “right fit” for their unique school environment.

Some of the hardest private schools to get into include:

  • Westminster School: Westminster School has a long history of academic excellence and a highly competitive admissions process. Its central London location, outstanding facilities and strong academic reputation make it the top choice for many families in the capital.
  • St. Paul’s School, Barnes: St. Paul’s School is renowned for its rigorous curriculum and commitment to producing well-rounded individuals. Its selective admissions process includes challenging entrance exams and interviews, attracting top-performing students.
  • Eton College: Eton College is one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the world. With a rich history, exceptional facilities and a tradition of producing leaders in various fields, admission is highly competitive.
  • Harrow School: Harrow School is known for its academic excellence, strong pastoral care and emphasis on character development. Its picturesque campus, comprehensive extracurricular offerings and esteemed alumni network contribute to its high demand and competitive admissions.
  • Wycombe Abbey School: Wycombe Abbey is one of the leading girls’ boarding schools in the UK. With a focus on academic achievement and personal growth, Wycombe Abbey attracts top-performing students from around the world.

Are you considering private school for your child?

If you’re thinking about private school for your child, get in touch with our expert academic tutors. 

With a proven track record of securing places at the most prestigious schools in the country, we can help with entrance exam preparation, academic consultancy, mock tests and more.