Public school (United Kingdom)
The term public school is sometimes used to refer to a group of older, more expensive and exclusive fee-paying private independent schools in the United Kingdom catering primarily for children aged between 13 and 18. Traditionally, most of these were boys boarding schools, although most now allow day pupils and have turned either partially or fully co-educational.
These schools emerged from ancient charity schools established to educate poor scholars. The term 'public' is derived from the fact that access was not restricted on the basis of religion, occupation or home location. Soon after the Clarendon Commission reported in 1864 the Public Schools Act 1868 removed the following seven schools from any direct jurisdiction or responsibility of the Crown, established church or government, establishing a board of governors for each school and granting them independence over their administration: Charterhouse School, Eton College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School, Westminster School and Winchester College. These schools developed rapidly. The following year, the headmaster of Uppingham School invited sixty to seventy of his fellow headmasters for form what became the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, membership of which now defines schools as being 'public schools'. Separate Preparatory schools (or 'Prep schools') for younger boys developed from the 1830s, with entry to the senior schools becoming limited to boys of at least 12 or 13 years old.
These schools have had a strong association with the ruling classes. Historically they educated the sons of the English upper and upper-middle classes. I particular, the sons of officers and senior administrators of the British Empire being educated in England while their parents where on overseas postings. In 2010, over half of Cabinet Ministers had been educated at public schools; by contrast however, the great majority of prime ministers since 1964 were educated at state schools. In 2009 typical fees were up to £30,000 per annum for boarders.
Until the late medieval period most schools were controlled by the church and had specific entrance criteria; others were restricted to the sons of members of guilds, trades or livery companies. The need for professional trades in an increasingly secularised society required schools for the sons of the gentry that were independent from ecclesiastical authority and open to all. From the 16th century onward, boys' boarding schools were founded or endowed for public use. Traditionally, most of these public schools were all boys and full boarding.
Separate Preparatory schools (or 'Prep schools') for younger boys developed from the 1830s, with entry to the senior schools becoming limited to boys of at least 12 or 13 years old. The first of these was Windlesham House School, established with support from Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School.
Many of the schools, including Rugby School, Harrow School and The Perse School fell into decline during the 18th Century and nearly closed in the early 19th Century. Protests in the local paper forced governors of the Perse School to keep it open and a court case in 1837 required corrections to the college’s abuse of school’s Trust.
Victorian period 
A Royal Commission, the Clarendon Commission (1861–1864), investigated nine of the more established schools including seven boarding schools (Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester) and two day schools (St Paul's and the Merchant Taylors').
The Public Schools Act 1868 regulated and reformed these public schools, for which is provided the first legal definition, being schools which were open to the paying public from anywhere in the country, as opposed to, for example, a local school only open to local residents, or a religious school open only to members of a certain church. St Paul's School and the Merchant Taylors' School claimed successfully that their constitutions made them "private" schools and were excluded from the requirements of this legislation.
Following the Clarendon Commission, the Taunton Commission was appointed to examine the remaining 782 endowed grammar schools, and produced recommendations to restructure their endowments that were included, in modified form, in the Endowed Schools Act 1869. In that year, the headmaster of Uppingham School wrote to 37 other headmasters of what he considered leading boys' schools not covered by the Public Schools Act inviting them to meet annually to address the threat posed by the Endowed Schools Act. In the first year only 12 headmasters attended, but in the following year 34 did, including the Clarendon schools. The Headmasters' Conference (HMC, now the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference) has since grown steadily to over 200 schools.
The Public Schools Yearbook was published for the first time in 1889, listing 30 schools, mostly boarding schools except for St Paul's School and Merchant Taylors' School. Some academically successful grammar schools were added in later editions. The 1902 edition included all schools whose principals qualified for membership of the Headmasters' Conference.
1901 – 1959 
The Fleming Report (1944) defined a public school as a member of the Governing Bodies Association or the Headmasters' Conference. Based on the recommendations of this report, the Education Act 1944 offered a new status to endowed grammar schools receiving a grant from central government. The direct grant grammar school would receive partial state funding in return for taking between 25% and 50% of its pupils from state primary schools. Members of the HMC accounted for 58 of the 178 direct grant schools, the vast majority of them day schools. On average, nearly half of their places were funded by the state.
1960s – present 
The 1960s were a time of considerable social change, and also of student activism. Civil unrest in France in May 1968, which starting with student strikes quickly escalated to the point that President Charles De Gaulle fled the country. In the UK students protested outside the US Embassy against the Vietnam War and staged sit-ins at the London School of Economics and elsewhere. The 1968 film The 1968 film 'if...', which satirised the worst elements of English public school and culminated in deadly armed insurrection won the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. These actions were felt in British public schools where the new headmaster at Oundle School noted that "student protests and intellectual ferment were challenging the status quo". These challenges coincided with the mid-1970s recession and moves by the Labour government to more clearly separate the independent and state sectors.
Many boarding schools started admitting day pupils for the first time and others abolished boarding completely, some started accepting girls in the sixth form others became fully coeducational. The system of fagging whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the most senior boys was phased out during the 1970s and 1980s. Corporal punishment, which was outlawed in state schools in 1986, had been abandoned in most public schools by the time it was formally banned in independent schools in 1999 for England and Wales (2000 in Scotland and 2003 in Northern Ireland).
When the direct grant was abolished in 1975, the HMC schools within the scheme became fully independent. At the same time, local authorities were ordered to cease funding places at independent schools, which accounted for over 25% of places at 56 schools, and over half at 22 of them. In addition, between 1975 and 1983 various local authorities withdrew funding from 11 voluntary-aided grammar schools, which became independent schools and full members of the HMC.[a] The loss of state-funded places at all of these schools, coinciding with the recession, put them under severe financial strain, and many became coeducational to survive. The direct grant was partially revived between 1981 and 1997 in the Assisted Places Scheme, which provided support for 80,000 pupils attending private schools.
More than half of HMC schools are now either partially or fully coeducational, though five of the Clarendon nine remain boys-only, while the other four admit girls only to the sixth form. Only four retain the full-boarding, boys-only tradition: Eton College, Radley College, Winchester College and Harrow School.
The majority of public schools are affiliated with, or were established by, a Christian denomination, mainly the Church of England as well as the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches, or identify themselves as "non-denominational Christian". A small number are inherently secular, most notably Oswestry School.
Boarding - psychological considerations 
There is a growing body of knowledge supporting the view that being sent away to boarding school at an early age can result in long-term psychological harm. In 2008 it was announced that a committee of MPs was to investigate and look at the social and emotional impact of separating youngsters from their parents and the 'possible dangers' of children being sent to boarding school at a young age.
Public schools (especially boarding schools) have sometimes been jocularly compared by their pupils or ex-pupils to prisons. Evelyn Waugh observed in Decline and Fall (1928) that "anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison". Former Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken, sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for perjury in 1999, commented in an interview: "As far as the physical miseries go, I am sure I will cope. I lived at Eton in the 1950s and I know all about life in uncomfortable quarters."
Associations with the ruling class 
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Up to World War II, the role of public schools in preparing pupils for the gentlemanly elite meant that such education, particularly in its classical focus and social mannerism, became a mark of the ruling class. For three hundred years, the officers and senior administrators of the British Empire usually sent their sons back home to boarding schools for education as gentlemen, often for uninterrupted periods of a year or more at a time.
The 19th century public school ethos promoted ideas of service to Crown and Empire, understood by the broader public in familiar sentiments such as "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" and "the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Ex-pupils often had a nostalgic affection for their old schools and a public school tie could be useful in a career, so an "old boy network" of former pupils became important.
The English public school model influenced the 19th century development of Scottish private schools, but a tradition of the gentry sharing primary education with their tenants kept Scotland comparatively egalitarian.
Acceptance of social elitism was reduced by the two World Wars, but despite portrayals of the products of public schools as "silly asses" and "toffs" the old "system" at its most pervasive continued well into the 1960s, reflected in contemporary popular fiction such as Len Deighton's The IPCRESS File, with its sub-text of supposed tension between the grammar school educated protagonist and the public school background of his more senior but inept colleague. Postwar social change has however gradually been reflected across Britain's educational system, while at the same time fears of problems with state education have pushed some parents who can afford the fees or qualify for bursaries towards public schools and other schools in the independent sector. In 2009 typical fees were up to £30,000 per annum for boarders.
As of 2013 the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party (David Cameron, Eton College), Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg, Westminster School) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne, St Paul's School) were all educated at Clarendon schools. While the outgoing Conservative Prime Minister in 1964 had been educated at Eton College and the incoming Labour Prime Minister in 1997 had been at Fettes College, all six British Prime Ministers in office between 1964 and 1997 and 2007 to 2010 were educated at state schools (Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Major and Brown at grammar schools and Callaghan at another state secondary school).
See also 
- List of independent schools in the United Kingdom
- List of the oldest schools in the United Kingdom (a number of which are public schools)
- Tom Brown's School Days, a book by Thomas Hughes set in Rugby School, published 1857
- School corporal punishment
- Public Schools Association (An association of Australian independent boys schools in Perth, Western Australia)
- Education in the United Kingdom
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