Many private prep schools take children up to 13. Children are then required to take a Common Entrance exam to go into senior independent schools. Some private schools offer GCSEs (which stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education) from 14 to 16. This is followed by A-Levels for pupils aged 16 to 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with those in some boarding schools in Scotland. Most independent schools in Scotland usually offer Highers and Advanced Highers for those aged 16 to 18.
Certain subjects, such as Maths, English and Science, are compulsory at GCSE and many schools also require pupils to study a modern foreign language and a mix of other arts and humanities subjects. Pupils can choose their other subjects and normally take 10 in total.
With GSCEs, a big emphasis is placed on coursework (essays and other written work completed during the school term). However, in the future there will be more of a focus on exams, as the system is due to be overhauled in 2015. GCSE courses last two years and once they finish, pupils receive a grade for each subject, from A* through to G. Grade U means no GCSE was awarded.
After taking GSCEs, pupils can then go on to take A-levels, or Highers in Scotland. These courses involve intensive studying of a smaller number of subjects.
It’s worth noting that a small number of independent schools offer the International Baccalaureate instead of A-levels or Highers.
This means pupils study a wider range of subjects during their final years at school and can choose the ones they want to study in more depth. The International Baccalaureate is administered from Geneva.
Reports have shown that independent schools often achieve higher exam results than state schools3. Classes tend to be much smaller, so pupils benefit from much greater individual attention from their teachers.
According to the ISC, pupils from independent schools account for just 14.6% of A-level exam entries nationally, but achieve 32% of A* grades – the highest possible. Recently published research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies also shows that those who went to British private schools earn on average 7% more than their state-educated contemporaries, three and a half years after graduation from university4.
Independent school pupils have an outstanding track record at A-level, with 51% of entries achieving A* and A grades, compared to 26% nationally, says the ISC. More than nine in 10 (92%) pupils move on to higher education. Many go to institutions in the Russell Group, an association of 24 prestigious British universities.