Why has it become so competitive to get into the UK private schools?

1. Changes to independent school admissions.

In recent years, many of the top UK independent schools have introduced pre-tests and discontinued the age-old practice of registering children at birth. This means that schools have opened their doors to a broader range of applicants and with an increase in the number of applicants per place, entry has in turn become a great deal more competitive. The Daily Mail, for instance, quotes the Headmistress of Francis Holland, SW1, saying that the number of girls registered to sit their entrance tests rocketed from 230 in 2009 to 730 in 2015, an astonishing increase of 36% per year.

2. Interest from overseas.

According to Knight Frank’s recent Wealth Report, the last decade has seen a growing global demand for places at UK independent schools from overseas families and this has added another tranche of competition to the mix. The Independent tells us that Chinese students make up the highest proportion of overseas pupils in UK schools, with their number increasing by 190% over the past ten years, and the Independent School Council suggested this year that 5.2% of pupils at independent schools now come from abroad.
In a world which is seeing rapid globalisation, parents are finding international education increasingly attractive and following Brexit and the pound losing value, UK independent schools are currently less expensive for overseas families and therefore even more appealing. The UK’s independent schools are distinctive in the strength of their commitment to extracurricular excellence and to pastoral care and we hear that it is this “holistic” approach that is so appreciated by families applying from international markets, and so hard to find elsewhere.

3. Beyond academics.

With an ever-increasing number of applicants, students now need more than a stellar academic record. Schools are looking for students who shine at interview, show promise outside the classroom and have an excellent school report. The Spectator reports that Eton has 1,300 boys applying for 250 places each year. They interview every boy and Bob Stevenson, who designs the Eton computerised pre-test, says, “it would be easy simply to take the top 250 in the test, but we don’t. We’re not just looking for the brightest boys”.
The Telegraph writes that particular prep-schools no longer have a special relationship with top independent schools like Eton, Harrow and Winchester but there is no doubt that a good prep school helps “develop a wide range of interests and strengths and also help build the confidence required to shine at interview”.

Written by Diana Stewart-Brown, Head of Operations in Keystone Tutors’ Singapore office.
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