Cover Photo: Courtesy of Benenden School

Thinking of sending your kids to the UK for a British education? Unlike in America, Britain calls their private schools "public", whereas non-fee paying institutions are referred to as "state schools" or "comprehensives". 

Below, we've shortlisted some of the best British public schools with incredible educational standards and high-class facilities for you to consider:

1 / 10

Benenden School

Ages: 11-18

Registration: Three to four years before entry

No. of Pupils: 550

Admissions: Admissions: The ISEB (Independent Schools Education Board) Common Pre-tests and the school’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels, with a highly innovative, inquiry-based approach to learning. Benenden’s Professional Skills Programme, launched in 2016, teaches Sixth Formers essential business, financial and life skills, while the Benenden Diploma is a two-year bespoke curriculum for the Fourth and Upper Fourth. The curriculum is complemented by high-profile speakers and workshops held by expert guests. In addition, Benenden’s co-curricular programme includes over 150 activities.

Campus and facilities: Benenden occupies 100 hectares of beautiful parkland in the middle of Kent. Some of the impressive facilities include a state-of-the-art Science Centre, a 300-seat theatre, and a new all-weather sports pitch and pavilion.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Benenden was founded in 1923 and is regarded as one of the top all-girls’ schools in the country.

New: A new school hall and music school is scheduled to be completed by late 2021, as part of the second phase of the school’s ambitious development plan that is to be completed by 2023, the school’s centenary year.

Benenden, Cranbrook, Kent, benenden.kent.sch.uk

2 / 10

Charterhouse

Ages: 13-18

Registration: The deadline to register for the 2023 school year is September 30, 2021, or September 20, 2022 for the 2024 school year. The pre-test takes place sometime in October or November. Contact the admissions team at admissions@charterhouse.org.uk for more details.

No. of Pupils: 800

Admissions: The ISEB Common Pre-tests plus the school’s own assessment and an interview. Students applying from Hong Kong and mainland China are advised to contact Academic Asia (www.academic-asia.com) for guidance.

Curriculum: Under School: (I)GCSEs. Sixth Form: Pre-U, A-Levels or IB.

Campus and facilities: More than 400 years old, a sense of history pervades. The school features outstanding sports facilities including a golf course, tennis courts, hockey pitches and more.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: In 2020, 61 per cent of its Sixth Form students received an A*-A in their Cambridge Pre-U and A Level results.

New: Primarily a single-sex boys’ school, Charterhouse also accepts girls in the sixth form. However, starting in 2021, the school will be moving towards full coeducation from the age of 13, welcoming girls into the Fourth Form (Year 9), with the aim for there to be girls in every year group from September 2023. The school roll will grow over the next decade from 800 today to around 1,000, with the increase representing additional places for girls. To mark the occasion, the school introduced a new uniform for students in years 9 and 10.

Godalming, Surrey, charterhouse.org.uk

3 / 10

Eton College

Ages: 13-18

Registration: By age 10

No. of Pupils: 1,300

Admissions: The ISEB Common Pre-tests and Eton pre-test, plus interview and previous school reports.

Curriculum: GCSE, A-Levels, and Pre-U examinations

Fees: Find out more here

Campus and facilities: School buildings are periodically modernised according to the school’s development programme. The flagship new facility, The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, is dedicated to increased research into neuroscience, new apps and changing technologies. When it comes to sports, a number of pitches accommodate cricket, football, hockey and more, while a gymnasium features sports halls, rooms for weight training, fencing and martial arts, a climbing wall, and a 25m swimming pool.

Noteworthy: One of the most famous all-boys’ English public schools in the world, Eton College was founded in 1440 by Henry VI. Its alumni include Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as 19 British prime ministers. Eton is one of four remaining single-sex boys’ schools in Britain and emphasises high academic standards, with the success rate for entry into Oxbridge and other top UK universities astonishingly high.

New: The school signed a partnership agreement with Star Academies to open three selective sixth form colleges. These state schools (the British equivalent of government-funded schools) aim to provide an avenue for young people from low socio-economic communities to get into an academic university in the UK. Eton College also launched the Orwell Awards 2022 this year, fully funded scholarships for the sixth form to be awarded to talented students who otherwise might not be able to attend Eton.

Eton, Berkshire (near Windsor), etoncollege.com

4 / 10

Gordonstoun

Ages: 13-18 for Senior School; 6-12 for Junior School

Registration: No deadline

No. of Pupils: Over 500 students combined for both the Senior and Junior School

Admissions: School’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels. A Year 11 one-year GCSE programme launched in 2017, designed for students aged 15 or 16 who are not already in the English academic system. For those who wish to continue their education in the English system, this year will provide an excellent foundation for A-Levels in the Sixth Form.

Campus and facilities: Set within a safe and beautiful 80-hectare wooded campus in the Scottish Highlands, the school is within easy reach of international airports at Inverness and Aberdeen. New facilities to the campus include a sports centre and a complex for the performing arts that include dance studios, drama rehearsal spaces and a theatre.

Fees: Find out more here (senior fees) and here (junior fees)

Noteworthy: This boarding school is known for its character-building outdoor education programme that build skills for life. Prince Philip and Prince Charles were both educated here.

New: Prince Philip won an award—the Moray Badge—when he was a student at Gordonstoun and the Moray Badge was part of the inspiration for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The school relaunched the Moray Badge award on June 10, 2021, the day that would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday, and the award will continue for a year to honour the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year in 2022. The award is open to all students from the Senior and Junior Schools and to win the award, students have to take on activities designed to help them develop new skills, such as water sports, hiking and gardening.

Elgin, Moray, Scotland, gordonstoun.org.uk

5 / 10

Harrow School

Ages: 13-18

Registration: Year 9: by the end of Year 5 or by May 1 of Year 6. Year 12: September or October of Year 11. Late applicants: May 1 of Year 7. Applicants from Hong Kong are asked to register with Battie Fung at Academic Asia (battie@academic-asia.com). 

No. of Pupils: 820

Admissions: Year 9: The ISEB Common Pre-tests and school’s own Harrow Test plus interview and references. Year 12: tests in two of four chosen A-Levels during autumn term of Year 11, a subject test, reference, and school reports.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE and A-Level. The Shell year (Year 9) is a foundation year in which every boy studies a wide variety of subjects, as well as a choice of two languages.

Campus and facilities: Founded in in 1572, this all-boys, full-boarding school is one of the world’s most renowned. The school grounds cover 300 acres and include conservation areas, a golf course and a working farm.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: For the 2020 academic results, more than two-thirds of the students received A*-A, with seven students achieving five or more A* grades.

New: Students who graduated in 2020 will be continuing their studies at renowned universities in the UK and US, including seven from the QS World University Rankings’ top ten universities, among them Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Harvard.

Harrow on the Hill, Harrow, London, harrowschool.org.uk

6 / 10

The King’s School, Canterbury

Ages: 13-18

Registration: Two years before entry

No. of Pupils: 830

Admissions: School’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports.

Curriculum: GCSE, A-Levels and Pre-U

Campus and facilities: The school is set across two main sites (the Precincts of Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine’s) with 13 boarding houses and three day houses spread throughout. A new Science Centre—including seven new physics laboratories, a dedicated science research space, an auditorium, and refurbished biology and chemistry laboratories—is set to open by 2020.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: The school was founded in 597 CE and aims “to anchor a 21st-century education within the illustrious history of the oldest school in the country.” Each school year culminates in the traditional King’s Week, a festival of music, drama, art, and sporting events.

New: The Malthouse building, located close to the main school campus, has been being transformed into a Performing Arts Centre which opened in 2019. It features a 350-seat theatre with an orchestra pit, dance and drama studios, and dining facilities. In addition, the International College opened in 2018. Part of The King’s Family of Schools, it will educate international students aged 11-16, preparing them to enter a senior school in Years 9, 10 or 12.

The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent, kings-school.co.uk

7 / 10

Westminster School

Ages: 13-18 (boys only from 13-16; co-ed from 16-18)

Registration: Four years before entry at age 13; between June and the beginning of September the year before at age 16.

No. of Pupils: 764

Admissions: For 13+ entry: The ISEB Common Pre-tests at age 10-11; tests in Maths and English plus an interview at age 13 or Westminster School’s scholarship exam, “The Challenge”. The school’s own exam plus interview at age 16.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE, A-Levels

Campus and facilities: The school is situated in the heart of London in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, next to the Houses of Parliament and the Supreme Court. Facilities include a new Sports Hall, a newly renovated science centre, design and technology studios, a purpose-built theatre, and a music centre.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Westminster pupils have consistently achieved over 54.5% A* or equivalent in the last 5 years, making it the top performing academic school in Britain.

New: The Hooke Science Centre has been redeveloped to include new state-of-the-art laboratories, a computer science lab and an observatory. Westminster students are competing in the 2018 Mathematics, Chemistry, Linguistics and Informatics UK Olympiad teams. They also represented the UK in the final of the International Space Design Competition at NASA, Florida and won the World Universities Debating Final 2017.

Little Dean’s Yard, Great Smith Street, Westminster, London, westminster.org.uk

8 / 10

Winchester College

Ages: 13-18

Registration: After age 8

No. of Pupils: 700

Admissions: ISEB Common Pre-tests, the school’s own tests and interview, depending on the school year that the student is applying for.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE/GCSE, A-Levels and the school’s own Extended Project Qualification

Campus and facilities: This all-boys school has more than 80 listed buildings—representing more than six centuries of continuous development— many of which are of national importance and all are in current use. There are extensive grounds of approximately 100 hectares, including 20 acres of playing fields and four acres of formal gardens. The school has an 18-hole golf course, and students are able to enjoy rowing on the River Itchen.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: The school’s origins can be traced back to 1382. It has existed in its present location for more than 600 years, the longest unbroken history of any school in England.

New: A newly renovated state-of-the-art Sports Centre will be open for use in early 2022.

College Street, Winchester, Hampshire, winchestercollege.org

9 / 10

Wycombe Abbey 

Ages: 11-18

Registration: By June 1 in the calendar year prior to entry.

No. of Pupils: 640

Admissions: A Cognitive Abilities Test, the school’s own test and interview at ages 11 and 13; the UK Independent Schools’ Entry Test, school’s own test and interview at age 16.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels

Campus and facilities: Wycombe Abbey is set on 170 acres of conservation-listed grounds. Modern, state-of-the-art facilities include the Sports Centre with a 25m indoor pool, the Performing Arts Centre with theatre and recital hall, dance and fitness studios, and extensive sports pitches. There is also a cafe called The Courtyard for both students and visitors.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Wycombe Abbey is ranked amongst the top girls’ boarding school in the UK and its GCSE and A-Level results are consistently impressive.

New: The Carrington Award, the school’s sixth form enrichment programme that was designed to help students develop skills in four categories covering leadership, self-reliance, creativity, critical thinking and more, was awarded the Creativity Award at the 2021 TES Independent School Awards. The prestigious school also has a campus in Hong Kong – Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong – which is a co-educational primary school and opened in September 2019.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, wycombeabbey.com

10 / 10

St Paul’s School

Ages: 7-18

Registration: Registration closes in early October the year before entry; boys are often registered at age 4.

No. of Pupils: 950

Admissions: ISEB online pre-tests, school’s own exams and interview.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE/GCSE, A-Levels, Pre-U

Campus and facilities: St Paul’s occupies more than 17 hectares of Thames-side property. The campus is unique among London schools for the on-site facilities it offers, ranging from boat club to theatre, a darkroom to cricket pitch and recital hall to design technology workshop.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: St Paul’s is a boys’ school that was founded in 1509. The original school, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and has since been rebuilt twice. Lessons are an intense 35 minutes to t in a two-hour lunch break, allowing pupils time to enjoy extracurricular activities. Almost a third of the school’s pupils go on to Oxbridge, and stellar exam results are a hallmark of the school.

New: The school is currently being rebuilt and expanded as part of a £150 million project, known as the Masterplan. Beginning in 2011, the work is scheduled to be carried out in phases over a period of 30 years. Its state-of-the-art science wing was opened in 2013 and the new Drama Centre and Samuel Pepys Theatre were completed in 2014. The majority of the senior school site has also been refurbished and now includes an astro-turf pitch, a RIBA award-winning Science Building, and two General Teaching Buildings featuring dining, library and classroom facilities that come with a view of the Thames.

Lonsdale Road, Barnes, London, stpaulsschool.org.uk


This article was originally published on May 23, 2018 and was updated on Aug 16, 2021.