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September 14, 2017updated 21 Sep 2017 12:40pm

The best private schools

By Spear's

Private schools have produced some of the country’s most influential and recognised names. But it becomes difficult to pick out the best one for a child with so many top-performing establishments around. Here is a rundown of the best private schools.

Private schools are some of the country’s oldest. Magdalen College and City of London date their founding back to the 15th century. St Paul’s and Westminster go back to the 16th. But they have all maintained their reputation over time as factories of some of the most important and influential figures in history.

Academic performance is a constant at these schools. And this appears to predetermine the lives of pupils leaving these institutions. Famous architects, prime ministers, Hollywood actors and Fleet Street editors are just a sample of those to have come out of private education.

These greater odds for success mean entry into the best private schools is highly competitive. There are English, Maths and reasoning exams as well as interviews for applicants to get through. It can be a lot to ask of a ten or eleven-year-old. Some even have this procedure for admission at 7+.

Day schools make up our selection although a few offer boarding facilities. We have looked at academic performance, university destinations and notable alumni to give you a flavour of each school’s calibre.

Westminster School

Westminster School1

Westminster School has been a frontrunner in private education since Queen Elizabeth I founded the school in 1560. It sits in the heart of London near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

The preparatory Westminster Under School admits boys at 7+ and 11+. Most boys enter at 13+ and the school admits both boys and girls at 16+ for Sixth Form. About a quarter of pupils board.

It consistently ranks towards the top of school league tables and sends a large proportion of pupils to Oxbridge every year – 80 out of 193 school leavers accepted places at the prestigious universities in 2011. Other destinations for that year’s cohort ranged from LSE to American universities such as Yale and Columbia.

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The school’s notable alumni include philosopher John Locke, Winnie-the-pooh author A. A. Milne and St Paul’s Cathedral architect Sir Christopher Wren. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber are some of its more recent leavers.

St Paul’s School/St Paul’s Girls’ School

St Pauls School1
St Paul's Girls' School2

St Paul’s School stood as part of the eponymous cathedral in central London when it was founded in 1509. It now lies south of the river by Hammersmith Bridge. The girls’ school opened nearby in 1904. Both are consistently among the best performing schools at GCSE and A-Level.

Entry to St Paul’s Girls’ School is at 11+ and 16+. The boys’ school admits pupils to its preparatory Colet Court at 7+, 8+ and 11+. St Paul’s School’s biggest intake is at 13+ but there is also admission at 16+.

The boys’ school says on average 65 out of 180 pupils receive offers from Oxbridge every year. About twenty are offered places from top US universities such as Yale and Harvard. St Paul’s Girls’ fares equally well with 34 out of 105 going to Oxbridge in 2013. Ten went to the US while the rest accepted places at institutions such as UCL and Edinburgh.

Alumni for St Paul’s School include head of BBC News James Harding and chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne. The girls’ school boasts Labour MP Harriet Harman as well as actresses Emily Mortimer, Jennifer Saunders and Natasha Richardson among its ranks.

Magdalen College School

Magdalen College School

Magdalen College School is an independent day school in Oxford. It educates boys from seven to eighteen years old and also admits girls at 16+. The Sunday Times named it Independent School of the Year in 2004 and 2008, a feat that no other boys’ or co-educational school has achieved before.

The school’s examination results are consistently among the best. Over 90 per cent of its A-Level grades were an A or A* in 2013. Close to 95 per cent of GCSE grades were an A or A*. The year was also a record for Oxbridge entries with 22 off to Oxford and 25 heading to Cambridge. The remainder of its 124 leavers accepted places at universities such as Bristol and Durham.

Notable old boys include Skyfall director Sam Mendes and Blackwell’s bookshop founder Sir Basil Blackwell.

City of London School/City of London School for Girls

City of London School

City of London School offers unparalleled location in the capital’s Square Mile. The boys’ school looks onto the river Thames by the Millennium Bridge while the girls’ site sits in Barbican.

Both schools’ alumni can match the best of any private institution in the country. Former prime minister Herbert Asquith, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and authors Julian Barnes and Kingsley Amis lead a long list of esteemed old boys. Actress Romola Garai and TV presenter Claudia Winkleman are among those who have attended the girls’ school.

Examination results are strong every year with both schools appearing towards the top of league tables. City of London School sends an average of 24 boys a year to Oxbridge. The girls’ school has sent one in five of its pupils there in the past three years.

The boys’ school has entry points at 10+, 11+, 13+ and 16+. The sister school admits girls at 7+, 11+ and 16+.

Oxford High School

Oxford High School

Oxford High School was founded in 1875 by the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST). It is the city’s oldest girls’ school and educates pupils between the ages of four and eighteen.

Over 80 per cent of grades attained at A-Level were either A or A* between 2009 and 2012. The figure for GCSEs over the same period of time is 90 per cent. Thirteen out of 65 girls accepted places at Oxbridge in 2012. A further seven went to UCL.

Notable former pupils include actresses Lucy Gordon and Dame Maggie Smith.

King’s College School


This boys’ day school started life in 1829 as part of King’s College London. It took up the same premises on the Strand as the university until 1897 when it moved to its current site in Wimbledon. It now educates boys between the ages of seven and eighteen while it also admits girls at sixteen.

Exam results and university destinations have remained among the best since its founding. In 2013, 76 per cent of all GCSE grades were A*. The school took up the International Baccalaureate instead of A-Levels until recently. Results had been equally strong there with the Sunday Times naming it the IB School of the Year. It sent 50 pupils to Oxbridge in 2013. A further eight took up places at US universities.

Former pupils include Dorian Gray actor Ben Barnes, teenage millionaire Nick D’Aloisio and Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons.

North London Collegiate


North London Collegiate School educates girls between the ages of four and eighteen. The independent day school has entry points at 4+, 7+, 11+ and 16+. It opened in 1850 but relocated to its present day Edgware site in 1940. An extensive coach service means pupils from across London and the home counties can attend.

Exam results are among the best in the country. A near-perfect 98 per cent of GCSE papers were graded at A or A* in 2013. Almost half of its A-Level grades were A* in the same year.

The school has produced some internationally renowned names in its time. Actress Rachel Weisz and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour are among its most famous former pupils.

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School/Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls

Habs Boys 1
Habs Girls2

Both the boys’ and girls’ school lie on a site in Elstree, Hertfordshire. The boys’ school has entry points at 5+, 7+, 11+, 13+ and 16+. Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls admits pupils at 4+, 5+, 7+, 11+ and 16+.

The schools’ academic rigour is reflected in exam results. Almost 80 per cent of A-Level grades were an A or A* at the boys’ school in 2013. Habs Girls recorded over 80 per cent of A-Level grades at the same level. Both regularly send large numbers to Oxbridge.

Alumni for Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School include actor Sacha Baron Cohen, Little Britain star Matt Lucas and broadcaster Alan Whicker. Labour MP Luciana Berger and radio broadcaster Charlotte Green are among the girls’ school’s former pupils.

Guildford High School

Guildford High School

This independent day school for girls aged four to eighteen lies in Guildford, Surrey. It is one of the top-performing in the country and the Sunday Times named Guildford High School as its Independent Secondary School of the Year 2012-13.

Academic performance has been exceptional. Over 88 per cent of A-Level grades in 2013 were either A or A*. That figure was a slightly higher 94 per cent at GCSE. Fourteen of 2013’s 83 leavers accepted places at Oxbridge. Their 2012 predecessors had a better Oxbridge rate with twenty out of 75 heading to the universities.

British playwright Lucy Prebble, who authored ENRON, and actress Celia Imrie, who has appeared in films such Calendar Girls and Bridget Jones’s Diary, are some of the school’s most notable former pupils.

South Hampstead High School

South Hampstead High School is another girls’ school founded and supported by the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST). Entry into the school is at 4+, 7+, 11+ and 16+.

Exam results are continually strong with almost 85 per cent of GCSE grades being A or A* in 2013. The equivalent figure at A-Level is 64 per cent. Fifty pupils accepted university offers in 2013 with seven of those heading to Oxbridge. One has headed to Northeastern University in the US while others have opted for top UK institutions such as LSE, UCL and Bristol.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter undertook most of her secondary education at South Hampstead. Model Daisy Lowe is another notable former pupil.

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