If you intend to send your young ones to a fee-paying school, it makes sense to investigate your options in advance. The southeast counties contain more well-performing schools than any other region, so it’s a great place to start your search. Not only will we reveal the 10 best private schools in South East England, but the adjoining area guides will also direct you to the top-rated places to live nearby.
We have created our list by extracting performance data from The Sunday Times Parent Power 2022 league tables. The data uses the average A-level, GCSE, IB, Pre-U, Advanced Higher, Higher and National 5 moderated exam performance from 2017–19. By using the average, parents can get a better sense of a school’s long-term performance, thereby avoiding concerns regarding the use of internal assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
10 best private schools in South East England
In 2021, students did not sit public examinations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers awarded grades according to strictly controlled internal assessment criteria. However, the rankings below also consider pre-pandemic grades for a more rounded picture. Now you’re fully informed, read on to discover the 10 best private schools in South East England.
1. Wycombe Abbey School
96.7% A-level A*- B
96.7% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Hugged by the Chiltern Hills’ rolling countryside, Wycombe Abbey School offers both day and boarding places to 656 girls aged 11 to 18. The school is at the top of our list, but it’s also ranked 3rd nationally according to The Sunday Times Parent Power table.
Dame Frances Dove – a promoter of equal educational opportunities for girls – founded Wycombe Abbey in 1896. According to a recent report, the school ‘aims to pursue academic excellence, develop the talents of each pupil in creative, physical and social skills, and encourage faith in God and service to other people’.
The boarding system supports this process by offering pupils the chance to develop long-term friendships and participate in various activities and events. There are 11 boarding houses on the school site, including one for Year 7 and another for pupils in Year 13. Some also benefit from en suite rooms and study areas, with girls between the ages of 12 and 16 living in mixed-age bedrooms.
Day: £10,315 (includes lunch).
Click here to download the school’s inspection report.
2. Magdalen College School
96.6% A-level A*- B
95.3% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
A traditional boys’ private school dating back to 1480, Magdalen College in Oxford has a high success rate for pupils attaining places at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. Its 985 pupils range from 7 to 18 years of age, with girls welcome to join the sixth form. Ranked 4th nationally, the school was dubbed Southeast Independent Secondary School of the Year 2018-19 by The Sunday Times.
The school claims its outstanding academic achievements result from reaching far beyond the curriculum, which includes sports, community service placements, and ‘a dazzling array of musical, dramatic and artistic performances’. Therefore, it’s no wonder MCS has produced scholars, war heroes, musicians, Olympians, a Nobel Prize laureate, a Hollywood film director, and a saint.
Day: £6,600 (11-18). 10% of pupils achieved a place at the school through the bursary scheme. 80% of bursary pupils were also awarded Oxbridge places in 2020.
You can view the school’s inspection report here.
3. Guildford High School
95.3% A-level A*- B
97.2% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Boasting the title of The Sunday Times Independent School of the Decade, Guildford High School in Surrey welcomes 985 girls through its doors from the age of four. In 2020, it was also named the Independent Girls School’s Sporting School of the Year. On-site facilities include a dedicated sixth form centre, an athletics track and sports centre, and the grounds of Stoke Park. In addition, Guildford’s London Road train station is located adjacent to the site and runs services between London Waterloo and Guildford.
Guildford High School has a separate Junior School and Senior School, which form ‘a happy, purposeful, and vibrant community’ centred on eight key aims. These focus on helping pupils maximise their self-belief and potential and fostering values that assist them with learning and life.
Day: £6,100 to £6,180 (11-18).
Read the latest inspection report here.
4. Brighton College
97.4% A-level A*- B
90.9% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Comfortably within our Top 5 – and joint 8th nationally – Brighton College also claims the title of The Sunday Times Independent Secondary School of the Decade. Based in the heart of the vibrant seaside town of Brighton, the college has around 1,200 mixed pupils aged between 11 and 18, including a mixed sixth form. Pupils are welcome to join the college’s nursery and preparatory school, which is just across the road.
In 2021, the Independent Schools Inspectorate awarded the College and Prep Schools ‘Excellent’ in all categories – the highest possible ranking. The headmaster puts this down to the inspirational teaching offered and the school’s engaged and happy pupils. Perhaps the reason for the latter is the school’s emphasis on the personal happiness of each student. This is achieved by treating them with ‘love, kindness, and respect’ and celebrating everyone’s unique talents and traits.
Day: £6,120 to £8,900 (11-18). Includes lunch.
Boarding: £12,220 to £14,550 (13-18).
Learn more about the school’s excellent inspection report here.
5. Sevenoaks School
95.8% A-level A*- B
92.7% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Our fifth-highest entrant and the 10th best private school nationally, Sevenoaks School has a thriving International Baccalaureate Diploma programme. A co-educational independent, it has just over 1,100 pupils ranging from 11 to 18 from over 45 countries, giving the school a global outlook. All pupils benefit from living, learning, and playing sports on a 100-acre campus in the Kent countryside. However, the school is conveniently located just half an hour from Central London and Gatwick International Airport.
Day: £8,340 to £9,471 (11-18). Includes lunch.
Boarding: £13,320 to £14,451 (11-18).
Download Sevenoaks School’s inspection report here.
6. Eton College
94.6% A-level A*- B
95% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Having educated the likes of Prince William and Harry, Eton College in Windsor must be one of the most famous schools in the world. Plus, it’s currently ranked 11th nationally and educates around 1,300 boys from 13 to 18. Besides allegedly inventing the traditional English dessert, Eton Mess, the all-boys school has a history stretching back to 1440.
Tradition is still an important part of the school’s identity, but it also credits its innovative thinking for its survival over six centuries. Its ‘award-winning flagship embedded research facility, The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, is at the core of these new developments’. Meanwhile, its global digital education platform, EtonX, is also part of the college’s growing digital expertise.
Academically speaking, the curriculum is broad, offering 28 subjects, including ten modern and classical languages. Masters hold prestigious degrees in their subjects but are chosen for their ability to inspire and support their students. The House Master and Tutor system ensures at least two adults oversee every boy’s progress.
Boarding: £14,698 (13-18). It’s also worth noting that 100 Eton pupils currently receive free education through the college’s bursary scheme.
Click here to download Eton’s most recent inspection report.
7. Haberdashers’ Girls’ School
94.9% A-level A*- B
94.1% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Ranked 13th nationally, Haberdashers’ Girls’ School in Elstree, Hertfordshire has also secured a place in our Top 10. The school educates over 1,100 female pupils from 4 to 18 years. Founded in 1875, one of the school’s unique features is that it shares a campus with Habs Boys, providing a single-sex education in a co-educational environment.
The headteacher, Rose Hardy, says: ‘We have an excellent reputation for the academic attainments of all our pupils, but we also believe in the development of the whole person, whether it is excelling in music, sport and drama or simply enjoying participating in them. Charity fund-raising, working with the wider and global community and looking beyond our beautiful campus location are all important aspects of the education provided here’.
Day: £6,690 (11-18).
See how the school performed in its latest report here.
8. The Haberdashers’ Boys’ School
95.3% A-level A*- B
Ranked one spot behind the adjoining girls’ school, Haberdashers’ Boys’ School educates over 1,000 boys from age 5 to 18. As we mentioned above, the school shares its campus with the Habs Girls, so pupils can access a co-educational environment without distractions. Moreover, the ‘exciting’ academic curriculum features a wealth of sporting, dramatic, musical and cultural activity, alongside values of enthusiasm, teamwork and friendship.
Besides this, parents are welcomed into the school for curriculum evenings, where they can learn about particular subject areas and how to support their boys at home. Lunchtime and after school co-curricular clubs and activities run throughout the week too. An extensive coach service also ensures your children can easily get to and from school.
Day: £7,159 (11-18).
See how the school performed in its last inspection here.
9. St Mary’s School Ascot
93.1% A-level A*- B
94.8% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
Ranked 17th nationally, you’ll find St Mary’s in the upmarket town of Ascot in Berkshire, just 45 minutes from London. With only 396 girls aged 11 to 18, this Roman Catholic school operates on a more intimate scale yet enjoys 55 acres of grounds and a full range of subjects at A level. In addition, most of the girls are full boarding, which helps promote a close-knit community feel.
As a Catholic school, chapel forms a core part of the girls’ education, encouraging their emotional and spiritual development. Through this process, St Mary’s aims to promote the values of ‘freedom of spirit, sincerity, and a cheery disposition’, championed by founder Mary Ward.
Day: £10,155 (11-18). Includes lunch.
Boarding: £14,260 (11-18).
Click here to read the latest inspection report.
10. Royal Grammar School, Guildford
93.6% A-level A*- B
90.2% GCSE A*/A/9/8/7
We return to Guildford in Surrey for our 10th most highly rated private school. Here, the Royal Grammar School claims a spot in the Top 20 nationally, providing an outstanding education to its 974 male pupils aged 11 to 18.
Underpinning the school’s success is a community of ‘unfailingly sparky, enthusiastic and inquisitive, humble and unassuming’ boys from all walks of life. Each pupil ‘is valued for his own sake, given the space and the encouragement to fulfil his potential in an environment where there are no stereotypes and each achievement, however small, is noticed’.
Day: £6,345 (11-18).
You can see a copy of the school’s latest report here.
Where are the best schools in South East England?
As you can see from our list above, the top private schools in the region are in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Kent, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, and Surrey. Meanwhile, the top ten state schools in South East England are in Reading in Berkshire, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, and Dartford in Kent, Potters Bar and Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, and Amersham and Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
What is the best private primary school in England?
Guildford High Junior School is the junior counterpart to the third-best private school in South East England. It also boasts a reading scaled score of 115 and a maths scaled score of 112. In fact, The Sunday Times has awarded it the accolade of Independent Preparatory School of the Decade.
It also shares the senior school’s facilities, and staff from the senior school teach some of the subjects. Currently, there are around 280 girls in the Junior School, with two classes per year group. Girls join from age 4, moving into secondary school at 11 without an additional entrance exam.
What are the most famous British private schools?
When you think of famous British private schools, you’re probably picturing traditional all-girls or all-boys institutions. For girls, some of the top names include Guilford High School for Girls, The Godolphin and Latymer School, Queen’s College, Wycombe Abbey, St Helen and St Katharine.
Meanwhile, some of the most famous boys’ schools are St Paul’s School, Eton, Harrow, Winchester College, Charterhouse, Magdalen College School, and King’s College School. Co-educational independent schools are on the rise too. Those with a strong reputation include Westminster School, The Perse School, and Gordonstoun School.
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(Featured image: The Old School, Sevenoaks by Robert Edwards)