The UK is one of the most developed countries in terms of education, with its education system mainly divided into private schools and government-funded state schools. Private schools are generally referred to as "Independent Schools" or "Private Schools," while "Public Schools" in the UK are actually one type of private school. Despite the word "public" in their name, "Public Schools" are not government-funded schools but cater to the general public. So, if you come across the term "Public School," don't assume it refers to a state school.
Do you need connections to attend a Public School?
The initial concept of "Public Schools" originated from private donations or public fundraising to provide education for academically outstanding children from disadvantaged backgrounds free of charge. However, over time and through the impact of world wars and changing times, these schools became concentrated centres for descendants of the royal family and wealthy individuals from the upper class. Initially, "Public Schools" only admitted boys, but with the progression of gender equality, a few Public Schools started accepting girls as well. By the end of the 19th century, they also began accepting overseas students. Nowadays, the basic requirement for admission to a Public School is not just wealth; even if someone can afford the tuition fees, they may not necessarily pass the entrance exams.
Which Public Schools are there in the UK?
In the UK, there is a term known as the "Original 9" (Origin 9), which is the local term for the most outstanding and oldest nine Public Schools. They are Eton College, Charterhouse, Harrow School, Winchester College, Westminster School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School, Merchant Taylors' School, and St. Paul's School. Admission to these nine schools can be extremely competitive, with some requiring applications two years in advance, and some even have waiting lists that start as early as a child's birth. Combined with the requirements regarding family background, many international families find it difficult to gain admission. Subsequently, the scope of Public Schools has expanded, and top schools such as Brighton College, Malvern College, Uppingham, Clifton, Cheltenham, and Dulwich have also been included in the list of Public Schools. According to the 1886 "Public Schools Yearbook," there are currently 24 Public Schools.
How do UK Public Schools cultivate elites?
Emphasis on academic curriculum and the cultivation of knowledgeable elitesTo ensure students have knowledge, strict entrance requirements are in place for the Original 9 Public Schools. Students often have to go through a rigorous selection process, with many starting with the first assessment in Year 6 of primary school (ISEB Common Pre-Test) for admission in Year 9. Even for non-Origin 9 schools, their entrance exams are more extensive compared to regular schools. Therefore, the curriculum covered by Public Schools is also more extensive than that of ordinary schools. For example, Cheltenham College offers over 20 subjects in their GCSE academic curriculum, including subjects with rich cultural backgrounds such as Art, Ancient Greek, and English.
Literature, Textiles, and Materials. In the final two years of pre-college education, many Public Schools incorporate the Cambridge Pre-U curriculum into the A-Level programme, allowing students to gain deeper academic knowledge and prepare for admission to prestigious universities.
Emphasis on moral values and personal development
The greatest achievement of Public Schools lies not only in producing students with excellent academic results but also in nurturing individuals with good character and values. For example, Brighton College's motto is "Be Good. Be Kind. Be Honest. Be the Best You," emphasising becoming a kind, excellent, honest, and best version of oneself. Schools encourage students to actively contribute to society by frequently visiting elderly individuals living alone, assisting disabled children, participating in beach cleaning, and more. The goal is to cultivate students who possess kindness, responsibility, and a sense of duty, making them good citizens. Thus, students at Public Schools complement each other's intrinsic virtues and character strengths, promoting both academic and personal development.
Emphasis on non-academic activities to foster all-round talent
If students aspire to gain admission to prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, excellent academic results alone are not enough; they also need a comprehensive resume. In addition to diverse academic courses, schools organise a wide range of sports, arts activities, and naval or army training. For example, Clifton College offers activities such as fencing, shooting, rowing, horse riding, outdoor expeditions, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, rock climbing, and the Combined Cadet Force. These sports not only enrich the students' boarding school life and enhance their physical fitness, but also develop strong willpower and resilience through various sporting competitions. Clifton College also offers a rich variety of art activities, including music, dance, and drama, nurturing students who excel in both academic and artistic pursuits.
Now that we understand how these renowned Public Schools have produced talents across various fields, let's explore a few "Hidden Gems" Public Schools, apart from the well-known ones like Eton College and Winchester College.
1 – Canford School
Canford School has been recognised as one of the "Best Public Schools" by Tatler. It has rarely participated in education exhibitions or collaborated with educational centres in Hong Kong, so it is easily overlooked by parents when collecting information. The school stands out for its high proportion of international students and its teaching methods. In 2019, the school had only about 20 international students whose first language was not English. This allows Hong Kong students at Canford School to truly experience an English-speaking educational environment. Additionally, the school's unique teaching model, known as "Saturday School," provides students with more time to participate in extracurricular activities related to their courses, enhancing their interest in learning. Teachers encourage students to ask questions and guide them to find answers, promoting independent learning that helps students achieve excellent results in public examinations. In 2019, nearly half of the A-Level papers achieved A* - A grade.
2 – Cheltenham College
Cheltenham College has a rigorous admissions process for international students, and parents who choose Cheltenham College are often attracted by the school's traditional and unique boarding environment. The school takes pride in its sporting achievements, particularly in rugby and hockey, with some alumni becoming national-level athletes. Furthermore, the school offers specific preparation courses for students considering admission to Oxford or Cambridge, assisting them in dealing with specialised entrance assessments and interviews. This has attracted many students interested in studying at these two prestigious universities to apply.
3 – Clifton College
Clifton College has produced several Nobel Prize winners, and the school's contribution to students' academic development in economics and science is noteworthy. As one of the most traditional public schools in the UK, the school maintains high admission standards and places great emphasis on students' all-round development. Traditional public schools also prioritise students' involvement in music and sports, giving preference to those with potential in these areas. Since its founding, Clifton has produced three Nobel laureates, making it an excellent example of educational success.
4 – Malvern College
Compared to other public schools, Malvern College has relatively easier admission requirements and application processes. Firstly, parents do not need to submit applications two to three years in advance. Secondly, while some public schools require UKiset scores, Malvern's admission process only requires entrance exams and interviews. The school's curriculum is tailored to accommodate international students, offering more choices compared to other public schools. For example, in addition to A-Levels, students can also choose the IB programme. Furthermore, they provide a one-year GCSE course specifically designed for international students, facilitating their transition.
5 – Sherborne School
Sherborne School was founded in 705 and is one of the first 24 public schools in the UK. It is also a member of the prestigious Eton Group. The school takes pride in its centuries of experience in educating boys. Sherborne has produced notable individuals, including Alan Turing, who invented one of the earliest computers and helped crack Nazi codes during World War II. The school's reputation attracts many Hong Kong families who appreciate traditional British-style education. Due to intense competition, it is advisable for families to apply two years in advance.
6 –Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury School is the alma mater of Charles Darwin, the father of biology in the UK. The school is dedicated to academic investment in the field of science and attracts many passionate students in the scientific field. The school places great importance on holistic education and encourages students not only to excel academically but also to prioritise those with talents in music or sports. During the application process, students are encouraged to undergo an Orchestra/Choir Audition. With nearly 500 years of history, Shrewsbury School is one of the first "public schools." Although Shrewsbury School is relatively low-key compared to other public schools, it still attracts a large number of applicants each year. For example, for admission in 2020, applications had closed in September 2019, and parents were advised to register 18 months in advance.
7 –Uppingham School
Uppingham School is one of the first 24 public schools in the UK and is a member school of Rugby School. It is a historic boarding school that maintains the tradition of full boarding. More than 90% of the students must be boarders, and international students account for only 16% of the population. The school emphasises inspiring students' curiosity through activities to enhance their self-learning ability and academic level, leading to a holistic education. The school excels in both academic and artistic achievements, and its facilities are at a national first-class level.
8 - Christ's Hospital School
Christ's Hospital is a typical and traditional boarding school that places great emphasis on etiquette. Its iconic "Blue Coat'' uniform, which has been passed down for centuries, is one of the earliest school uniforms in the world. This unique uniform constantly reminds students to abide by discipline and maintain elegance. The school offers "Saturday Day School," where additional supplementary courses in different subjects are provided on Saturday mornings, and vibrant extracurricular activities are available in the afternoons. As the school is fully boarded, the range and scale of activities are comprehensive.
9 - Repton School
Repton School is a traditional and conservatively prestigious British school. Mark Semmence became the new headmaster in 2019, bringing with him extensive experience in teaching and school management, as well as a background in business from his younger years. It is believed that under the leadership of the new headmaster, the school will introduce many new elements to its overall policy formulation. Repton School, as an old and reputable public school, not only preserves its traditional boarding culture but also progresses and gradually transforms, combining innovative modern elements with the well-established education of the past. It is no wonder that it has nurtured numerous successful individuals in various industries, such as the former Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, Geoffrey Ma.