Revealed: GCSE grades versus fees - find out how leading private schools rank

Camilla Turner
GCSEs

With more than a thousand private schools to choose from, how do you work out which one to select? Some boast of state-of-the art sports and music facilities, while others talk up their pastoral care and wellbeing initiatives. But there is one thing that their pitch has in common: exam results.

And a question often at the forefront of parents’ minds is:  "Will it be worth it?"

With fees rising year on year, how do you know if a school is good value for money? Using information from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) as well as our own research and analysis, we have compiled a comprehensive database of private schools’ fees mapped against exam results.

Find your school

Our interactive tool allows you to search for every school in England  - where their GCSE results are publicly available - and see how they fare against others in terms of value for money. 

Hovering over a diamond on the graphic brings up the school’s name as well as its fees per term and the proportion of grades which were awarded As and A*, or grades 7 to 9, in GCSEs or iGCSEs in 2019.

How it works

Today we are publishing the data for GCSE results and next week we will do the same for A-level results.

We have created one graphic for day schools and another for boarding schools which generally charge higher fees. Schools which have both day and boarding provision will appear in both graphics, with the appropriate level of fees reflected in each one.

What we found

Parents are paying more than £27,000 a year to send children to a private school where just 12 per cent of their GCSE exams will be awarded top grades, according to our analysis.

Bellersby College London, which charges £9,020 per term for day pupils, has emerged as one of the most expensive day schools in the country but where pupils achieve among the lowest proportions of As and A*s, or grades 7-9, in GCSEs compared with other fee-paying institutions.  

Among the most costly boarding schools was DLD College in London, where fees are £17,666 a term but just 28.07 per cent of GCSEs are awarded top grades.

The college was established in 1931 to provide tutoring for prospective applicants for Oxford and Cambridge universities, as well as those preparing for Colonial Service entrance exams.

Meanwhile, Badminton School was identified as one of the best value boarding schools as it had one of the highest proportion of top exam grades but among the lowest fees.

At the all-girls school in Bristol, which charges £5,475 a term for day pupils and £10,765 for boarders, 77 per cent of pupils achieved A-A*s or 7-9s in their GCSEs this year.

Rebecca Tear, the headteacher, said that her pupils do not just “jump through exam board hoops”, but get a “hands-on” approach to their education. 

“It’s all about community here,” Mrs Tear said.  “Within the community the girls know one another, the older and younger girls, they know the teachers, and you’ve got really strong relationships both in and out of the classroom.

“I really strongly believe that to learn, you have to be a little bit uncomfortable, you have to go through your comfort zone and push yourself.  Here, because we’re all so familiar, they are prepared to take those risks, to ask their teachers and ask each other.”

The school, which was founded in 1858, counts Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India and the actress Rosamund Pike among its alumnae.

Badminton School in Bristol counts the actress Rosamund Pike among its alumnae

Winchester College, Charterhouse and Wellington College were among the top five most expensive day schools.

Winchester College, an all-boys school which charges £13,304 per term, had the best results out of the three with 87.3 per cent of GCSEs awarded top grades. 

Private schools have come under pressure in recent years for hiking fees. “The danger the sector is in is that it has lost the middle class,” said Martin Stephen, the former headmaster of St Paul’s Boys’ School.

“Part of the reason is as simple as the fact that they have been able to put the fees up and not reduce the number of applicants.”

At Winchester College,  87.3 per cent of GCSES were awarded A/A* or 7-9 this year Credit:  Christopher Pillitz

Barnaby Lenon, the chair of the ISC and a former headmaster at Harrow School, agreed that the biggest threat for private schools is “if they don’t hold their fees down”.

He said: “Although it is true that the average fee has risen faster than salaries  - which is not a good thing - nevertheless there are still a pretty large number of schools with fees around £14,000.

“Secondly now many more women work so there is more money available to pay fees than in the old days when often mother did not work. Schools have greatly increased the number of bursaries which are available for families who can only afford half or three quarters of a fee.

“I totally agree that independent schools have to watch out that they don’t price parents out of the market, they are very aware of that and have made a huge effort to hold fees down.”

Mr Lenon said there had been a "growing realisation" among parents that the relationship between exam results and success in life is "not as strong as people once thought". 

He explained that with half the population now going to university, the premium attached to it has been slightly reduced.

"And with the growing number of problems with pupil mental health, this is something parents care about more," he said. "Let's face it if you ask parents what they want most for their children, the first thing they will say is not results. It's that they are happy, make good friends, are safe and secure."

Barnaby Lenon is a former headmaster at Harrow School

Bellersby College and DLD College both said that the majority of their pupils are from outside of the EU, and do not speak English as a first language.

“Arrival at Bellerbys is often their first time away from home, meaning they have to make academic, cultural and language adjustments,” a spokesman for Bellersby College London said.

“We specialise in caring for these young adults, tutoring them and preparing them for university entry and the future world of work. 399 of our 2019 graduates progressed to a top 50 UK university. We're extremely proud of every cohort."

DLD College said they work with a number of students who have found education “challenging”, and success cannot be measured by looking grades alone.

“Our students enjoy five-star, secure and safe boarding in the same building with a strong co-curricular programme to match," a spokesman said. 

“For these reasons, the cost of boarding in this part of London cannot be easily compared with the cost of a boarding school in other locations.”