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An independent school is a school which is independent in terms of its finances and governance; it is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operations nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the investment yield of an endowment. It is governed by a board of directors that is elected by an independent means and a system of governance that ensures its independent operation. It may receive government funds. However, its board must be independent.

The terms independent school and private school are often synonyms in popular usage outside the United Kingdom. Independent schools may have a religious affiliation, but the more precise usage of the term excludes parochial and other schools if there is a financial dependence upon, or governance subordinate to, outside organizations. These definitions generally apply equally to primary education, secondary education, and tertiary education institutions.

In The Netherlands over two-thirds of state-funded schools operate autonomously, with many of these schools being linked to faith groups. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, ranks the education in the Netherlands as the 9th best in the world as of 2008, being significantly higher than the OECD average.

In Sweden, pupils are free to choose a private school and the private school gets paid the same amount as municipal schools. Over 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in private schools in 2008. Sweden is known for this school voucher model.


The Dutch constitution allows faith-based schools to be government funded. The Christian political party (Anti-Revolutionaries) won equality in funding for their education, by agreeing upon general voting in exchange in the so called Schoolstrijd ("School Struggle"). The outcome of the debate is that schools in the Netherlands are mostly state funded whilst run independently.


Education vouchers were introduced in 1992, making Sweden one of the first to follow the Netherlandsmarker' model. Anyone can start a for-profit school. Independent schools are funded with public money from the local kommun (or municipality). Independent schools and public schools receive money from the kommun for every pupil they have enrolled. Economic differences throughout Sweden directly affect how much money each kommun can provide per pupil, by as much as 50000 SEK (7150USD, 4375GPB). As of 2008, >10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in independent schools. This model has been promoted in the Op-ED section of the New York Times, by the conservative Pacific Research Institute.

Sweden's implementation of independent schools is promoted by economic and governmental figures with the words 'Sweden is a world leader in free-market education'.. Per Unckel, Governor of Stockholm and former Minister of Education, summarizes the advantages of Swedish system "Education is so important that you can’t just leave it to one producer. Because we know from monopoly systems that they do not fulfill all wishes".

The system is especially popular among right-wing voters in large cities, and has even expanded overseas. Criticism has been expressed that this reform has led to a large number of fundamentalistic religious schools, and that the system results in increased segregation. Some municipal assemblies, for example Täby Municipalitymarker,have sold public schools to private persons, for example the head of the school, for a much lower price than what a school chain would have paid on the open market.

Profit opportunities in education (from public money), but more specifically, education's deregulation in Sweden, contrasts it's 20th century socialist trends and history. These two aspects are utilized as economic, social, and ideological marketing levers for claims about the benefits of independent schools in Sweden (see, ideological theory of Alain Badiou). In addition to real public support (and dislike), the desire to promulgate the constituted and constituent ideology deregulation opportunities (and profit making) support claims that the Swedish system is popular.

Two large independent Swedish school chains are Internationella Engelska Skolan and Kunskapsskolan (“Knowledge Schools”), which is the biggest school chain. Kunskapsskolan offers 30 schools and a web-based environment, has 700 employees, and teaches nearly 10,000 pupils.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, independent education has grown continually for the past twenty years. In Englandmarker, Walesmarker and Northern Irelandmarker but not in Scotlandmarker, the more prestigious independent schools are known as public schools, sometimes categorised as major and minor public schools. Membership of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference is what defines a school as a public school, though this includes many independent grammar schools. When founded, such schools were often named 'public' schools to make clear that pupil attendance was not limited to the immediate locality of the school, and to differentiate them from private tutors who exclusively taught the sons of the nobility; some argue that although the introduction of tuition fees was inevitable, it has harmed their raison d'être.

In Scotlandmarker, those schools which are not state funded are known as private schools or in the vernacular of some regions known as Merchant's Schools, (e.g. in Trainspotting). This also applies in the instance of Merchant Taylor School located in Liverpool.

United States

Independent schools in the United Statesmarker educate a tiny fraction of the school-age population (slightly over 1% of the entire school-age population, and only around 10% of the 10% of students who go to private schools). The essential distinction between independent schools and other private schools is self-governance and financial independence, i.e., independent schools own, govern, and finance themselves. In contrast, public schools are funded and governed by local and state governments, and most parochial schools are owned, governed, and financed by religious institutions such as a diocese or parish. Independent schools may be affiliated with a particular religion or denomination; however, unlike parochial schools, independent schools are self-owned and governed by independent boards of trustees. While independent schools are not subject to significant government oversight or regulation, they are accredited by the same six regional accreditation agencies that accredit public schools. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is a membership organization of American pre-college independent schools.

In the United States, there are more independent colleges and universities than public universities, although public universities enroll more total students. The membership organization for independent tertiary education institutions is the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.


In Australia, independent or private schools are the fastest growing education sector and over 85% of them have a religious or church affiliation. There are currently 1,078 independent schools catering for 491,000 students in Australia (as of 2006). Some independent schools are prestigious and enrolment highly sought after, with tuition fees to match, however since the 1980s the number of low-fee schools catering for 'average' Australians, and in some cases without any religious affiliation, has increased significantly. Independent schools in Australia make up nearly 15% of total enrolments while Catholic schools, which usually have lower fees, also make up a sizeable proportion (18%) and are usually regarded as a school sector of their own within the broad category of independent schools. Enrolments in non-government schools has been growing steadily at the expense of enrolments in government schools which have seen their enrolment share reduce from 78% to 67% since 1970. Australian independent schools differ slightly from those in the United States as the Australian Government provides funding to all schools including independent schools using a 'needs based' funding scheme based on a Socio-Economic Status (SES) score. The school's SES score is derived by selecting a sample of parent's addresses and mapping these to a Census Collector District from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census. The household income & education data is then used to derive an SES score for each school, which places it on a sliding scale of funding entitlement. On average, funding granted to an independent school is 47% of that required to operate a government school, the residual being made up by tuition fees paid by parents.


Canada’s independent schools means elementary and secondary schools which are not owned or managed by the provinces. They are regulated by the Independent School Act and must offer curriculum prescribed by the Canadian government. Ontariomarker has the most independent schools in Canada. Columbia International College is the largest independent boarding school in Canada.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 29 - "Article 29 (of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) claims to limit the right of parents and others to educate children in private school by requiring that all such schools support both the charter and principles of the United Nations and a list of specific values and ideals. By contrast, United States Supreme Courtmarker case law has provided that a combination of parental rights and religious liberties provide a broader right of parents and private schools to control the values and curriculum of private education free from State interference."

See also


  1. [
  2. [1]
  3. Making money from schools: The Swedish model, The Economist
  6. Made in Sweden: the new Tory education revolution, The Spectator
  8. Made in Sweden: the new Tory education revolution, The Spectator
  9. National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
  10. David M. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 29, 104 at [2] - See Susan H. Bitensky, Educating the Child for a Productive Life, in CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN AMERICA 181 (Cynthia Price Cohen & Howard A. Davidson eds., 1990) (referring to “fundamentalist” curriculum used in some private religious schools which evidences hostility toward the United Nations). Relevant cases include Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

Further reading

  • Hein, David (4 January 2004). What Has Happened to Episcopal Schools? The Living Church, 228, no. 1, 21-22.
  • Windrush School.

External links

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