State, Private and Grammar School; What’s the Difference?

August 4, 2022

One of the most important decisions to make is which type of secondary school your child will attend. While there are alternative options, the UK is divided into three main types of schools; state, private and grammar. In this blog post we describe what ex-students enjoyed about attending each one as well as the problems they may have faced when studying. 

What are state, private and grammar schools? 

State schools, also known as comprehensive schools, are government-funded schools which must follow the national curriculum. Students are normally selected based on their proximity to the school and don’t have to pay a fee to attend. There is a wide variety of types of state schools, such as local authority, academies and faith schools.  

Grammar schools are also technically state schools, free and funded by the government. However, they are ‘selective’, requiring students to take a common entrance exam, also referred to as the 11-plus. They prioritise places for students with the highest scores, making it very competitive to attend. The test focuses on your child’s maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning skills. We have an impressive guide about it here

Private schools are run by the owners of the school and charge a fee for the students to attend. They are independent of many government regulations, such as the national curriculum. They may require an admissions test like grammar schools do and offer scholarships for students of academic talent or other abilities in sports and music for example.  

Which school provides better opportunities for students?

An ex-private school student told us that one of the strongest advantages of going to private school is the extracurricular opportunities on offer to pupils. Private schools tend to have more funding, and therefore can provide facilities and opportunities for different subject areas and interests - such as arts, sports, trips, guest speakers and more. This gives students a more well-rounded education and can lead to a deeper passion for a subject. However, it can add pressure to students making their workload significantly harder to manage.

Despite this, many have suggested state funded schools are closing the gap, yet there is clearly much more progress to be made. Grammar schools instead usually focus more heavily on academic achievement, pushing their students to achieve top grades, as explained by an ex-grammar school student. Courses such as the international baccalaureate (IB) and iGCSEs are becoming more widely offered in these schools than they would be in state schools. While these schools do this to stand out from the crowd and to attract overseas students, it's worth questioning if there is a direct benefit to students in these cases.

What are the class sizes like? 

Some may suggest that teachers in state schools are worse than in grammar or private, but that isn’t the experience of our interviewees. They all agreed that the quality of teachers in all schools were generally the same. Every teacher needs the same qualifications and checks in order to be able to teach at the school, and you can find good teachers wherever you go. 

However, one big difference between state and private schools is the class sizes. While A-level classes remain typically small, at other levels, state schools can have up to 35 students whereas on average there are 20 students at GCSE during a private school class. Smaller classes mean that there is less workload on the teachers as well as less time spent managing behaviour. Instead, students can get more one-on-one time with teachers to focus on their strengths and weaknesses. However, this clearly isn’t enough in any type of school, which is why private tuition is a popular option for many.

Private school teachers also have more flexibility in deviating from the national curriculum, allowing them to teach their subject more creatively, as explained by one private school teacher. This is a more fun and exciting learning environment than one experienced in state and grammar schools, which is more heavily regulated by the government.  

Does it affect your child’s grades?

Private schools do offer smaller class sizes, nevertheless, grammar schools typically achieve better results than private schools. An ex-state school student points out that although class sizes are larger than in private schools, state schools can also prepare students for university better as they teach students how to independently learn. 

One ex-private school student’s perspective before entering school was that he was attending the ‘very best of the best’ but they realised that that was not always the case. Studies have shown that top sets of both state schools and private schools produce similar results at the end of the day. Although students can get left behind in all schools, grammar schools are particularly problematic for this, as their expectations end up being very high. An ex-grammar school student told us, as they were not in the top set, they felt their school didn't focus on their performance enough. After changing to a state school for sixth form, they found the opposite, and achieved much better results.

A large percentage of private school students do attend on scholarships, but even so, there is a greater diversity of students in state and grammar schools. This can create a less intimidating environment for students to learn. Our ex-private school student mentioned that they felt as if they were in a ‘bit of a bubble’ when attending school and didn’t feel as well-prepared socially for university. Whereas ex-state school students' perspective on school was that they have more opportunities for character building and less pressure for getting the top grades. 

Final Thoughts, 

While each school is different, it’s clear that students have positive and negative experiences for each of them. The important thing to remember is to research which one best suits your child’s personality either through using the internet, speaking to current students, or attending open days. We hope the information provided in this blog post gives you some insight on this.

What About Private Tuition?

Lots of parents look into private tuition to help their child achieve the grades that they want. From homeschooling opportunities to specific exam board advice, Tutor House is the perfect place to start off your child's tutoring journey.

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Sadiyah Zaman

Sadiyah is our Senior Content Writer who combines her background in design and writing to create compelling educational content for Tutor House. When she's not managing her foster cat's mischievous antics, she can be found with a warm cup of coffee, meticulously crafting her next written masterpieces.

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