Are THESE the best private schools in the UK? Tatler unveils its nominees for its annual awards (and the famous alumni who once graced their corridors!)

  • Post category:news
  • Reading time:18 min(s) read

  • Tatler magazine has unveiled its list of the top prep and public schools in the UK
  • Institutions range across the country from Radley College to Shrewsbury School
  • READ MORE: Parents threaten to pull their children out of lessons as school installs CCTV in children’s toilets – but teachers refuse to back down 

As the new school year starts and parents are preparing to drop their children off, they want to be assured that they are in the best possible hands. 

Now society bible Tatler has revealed the best prep and public schools in the country – and unsurprisingly, they come at an eye-watering price. 

These institutions have seen some very notable alumni, such as Princess Beatrice’s husband,  Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, and the late comedian Peter Cook, who both attended Radley College. 

One of the world’s most famous biologists, Charles Darwin, walked through the halls of Shrewsbury School aged nine.  

Here, FEMAIL reveals the schools which have been nominated by Tatler as top of the class… 

BEST PREP SCHOOLS 

St Hugh’s, Oxfordshire

Term fees: Up to £8,350

Located in Carswell Manor, Faringdon, St Hugh’s used to be a boys’ boarding school, but since 1977, they are co-educational.

This prep school has 45 acres of fields, outdoor classrooms, woodland, and adventure playgrounds. 

Fees range from £4,830 for reception and children aged four onwards, and £8,350 for upper school students per term. 

The institution has also recently developed facilities such as the swimming pool, sports hall, and library.

Cottesmore School, West Sussex

Term fees: Up to £11,588

Cottesmore parents will be delighted to learn of the success of their children's school, given that it costs up to £11,588 per term

Cottesmore parents will be delighted to learn of the success of their children’s school, given that it costs up to £11,588 per term

Cottesmore parents will be delighted to learn of the success of their children’s school, given its fees.

Situated in picturesque Buchan Hill, Cottesmore has just 155 boarding pupils, with an additional 43 day pupils in pre-prep.

But it is really animals who rule the roost at the impressive countryside school, notes Tatler. 

‘Dogs are in almost every classroom and a corn snake, bearded dragon, Atlas moths and the obligatory guinea pigs take centre stage at Animal Care club.’

One parent described the school as ‘magical’ and noted there is a ‘remarkable alchemy of tradition, support, freedom, energy and challenge’.

In recent months the school has worked hard to adapt to ‘the new normal’ in the age of Covid-19, inviting all prep school aged pupils accompanied by a parent to join their ‘Talk It Out’ webinar before the start of school.

It also divided the student body into ‘households’ and is encouraging pupils to try out paddle-boarding, rowing and fishing in the absence of sports fixtures and matches against other schools.

The headteacher used to be in a band with Lewis Capaldi’s songwriting partner, and is now in numerous rock bands with pupils.

Cottesmore also offers a coding club and the student-led Kindness Council which runs a ‘lone diner’ policy to ensure no child eat their dinner on their own.

International students who are looking to board will be set back a whopping £11,588 per term. Day boarding costs £7,032 and full boarding for home students will cost £10,528. 

Ardvreck School, Perthshire

Term fees: Up to £10,540

Skiing is a big sport at Ardvreck School, largely down to its close proximity to Glencoe

Skiing is a big sport at Ardvreck School, largely down to its close proximity to Glencoe

Skiing is a big sport at this school, largely down to its close proximity to Glencoe. 

It’s also strong when it comes to academics, with 19 out of 20 leavers last year offered scholarships, which included a Thring award for drama and piping. 

School fees range from £3,350 per term for five to seven year olds, and then it is dependent on what route you choose for the main school (which is forms one to six). For boarders, the fee is £10,540 a term, but for day pupils it is £7,020. They have a flexible boarding approach option available.

Notable alumni of the school includes sport shooter Jonathan Hammond, who competed in the Olympics and won gold in the Commonwealth Games. 

Cumnor House Sussex

Term fees: Up to £7,790

Cumnor House Sussex is in the heart of the Ashdown Forest, surrounded by 60 acres of countryside

Cumnor House Sussex is in the heart of the Ashdown Forest, surrounded by 60 acres of countryside

This rural school is in the heart of the Ashdown Forest, surrounded by 60 acres of countryside. 

The school offers a building, named The Peake, specifically for STEM subjects which opened in 2017. It consist of three science labs and a dedicated Design Technology workshop.

The school also has a theatre – which seats 300 people- an arts and ceramics studio, and a dance studio.

Fees range from £5,950 from year three to £7,790 when your child reaches year eight. 

Notting Hill Prep School

Term fees: £8,189

Notting Hill Prep School is a split-site institution, meaning that students will go through three buildings during their time there

Notting Hill Prep School is a split-site institution, meaning that students will go through three buildings during their time there

Notting Hill Prep School is a split-site institution, meaning that students will go through three buildings during their time there. 

Pupils transition from the Old Building (Lower School – Reception to Year 2) to the Jane Cameron Building (Middle School – Year 3 to 5) and on into the Portobello Green Building (Upper School – Year 6 to 8), before exiting to their chosen senior schools at either 11+ (Year 6) or 13+ (Year 8).

The school was only founded in 2003, under Headmistress, Jane Cameron, who wanted an educational institution which had a strong partnership with parents. 

This prep school would set parents back £8,189 per term and they take in both girls and boys aged four to 13. 

BEST PUBLIC SCHOOLS 

Radley College

Term fees: £16,025 per term. 

Radley College school boasts an on-campus art gallery and extra-curricular activities ranging from opera appreciation to wine tasting and flight simulation

Radley College school boasts an on-campus art gallery and extra-curricular activities ranging from opera appreciation to wine tasting and flight simulation

This Oxfordshire school boasts an on-campus art gallery and extra-curricular activities ranging from opera appreciation to wine tasting and flight simulation.

It also features a Countryside Centre which provides experience of animal husbandry, which is popular with students. 

Alumni include former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Princess Beatrice’s husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, and the late comedian Peter Cook. 

‘Radley is a bit like a London club,’ said one prospective parent who previously toured the school.

Bradfield College

Term fees: Fees of up to £15,100 per term

Bradfield College is a co-educational boarding and day for 13 to 18 year olds situated in the Berkshire countryside within an hour of London

Bradfield College is a co-educational boarding and day for 13 to 18 year olds situated in the Berkshire countryside within an hour of London

Bradfield College is a co-educational boarding and day for 13 to 18 year olds situated in the Berkshire countryside within an hour of London.

And it has a dedicated catering team response for providing ‘diverse and interesting menus across breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.’

For lunch, pupils and staff can choose from wide a selection of main dishes, a salad bar, pasta bar, soup, fruit and desserts.

A range of cooked and continental choices is available for breakfast and those having supper enjoy a variety of tempting dishes.

The kitchen brigade prepare all dishes in the two College kitchens from fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Pupils form an active role in shaping the menus at the school and can join the Catering Committee, which meets regularly each term and make suggestions and on occasion, create entire menus.

In recent times, pupils crafted a new vegan menu to reflect the growing number of pupils choosing a vegan diet.

And on Saturdays, lucky parents visiting the College for sports fixtures can enjoy ‘Match Teas’ including fresh sandwiches, scones and cakes, with all prepared on site and baked on the day.

If your child is boarding, the termly fee will set you back £15,100 (£45,300 annual fee) but if are going down the day school route, it will cost you £12,080 per term (£36,240 annual fee).

Made in Chelsea star Sam Thompson, 31, attended Bradfield College. He has been on shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and Celebs go Dating. 

Now he is a radio presenter for Hits Radio and is dating Love Island star Zara McDermott.

Shrewsbury School

Term fees: Fees from £16,004 per term 

Shrewsbury School was founded in 1552 by Edward VI, therefore it has an extensive history rooted in royal connections

Shrewsbury School was founded in 1552 by Edward VI, therefore it has an extensive history rooted in royal connections 

Shrewsbury School was founded in 1552 by Edward VI, therefore it has an extensive history rooted in royal connections. 

It won Independent School of the Year in 2020, where it also received the award for Community Outreach 2020.

Charles Darwin even attended the school, writing in a brief account of his life, available on the school’s website: ‘In the summer of 1818 I went to Dr Butler’s great school in Shrewsbury. I boarded at this school so that I had the great advantage of living the life of a true schoolboy.’

Seen as one of the world’s most famous biologists who coined the theory of Natural Selection, Darwin went to the school at the age of nine.

The institution is very proud that Darwin was one of their own, as they even have a statue dedicated to him outside the building.

Fees range from £16,004 per term for boarding, non-UK/EEA resident attending sixth form. For those UK/EEA resident students boarding, it is slightly cheaper, at £15,194. 

And for those just wanting the day option, it would set you back £10,599. 

For the lower school, which consists of Third, Fourth & Fifth Forms, boarding for international students would cost £14,660. For a Boarding, non-UK/EEA resident, the fee would be £15,464.

And those in the lower school who just want the day option, it would cost £10,054 per term. 

Brighton College

Term fees: Fees from £21,640 a term (£64,920-a-year)

From the moment parents of prospective students walk through the Gothic-revival arch of Brighton College’s principal building, it’s clear that nothing has been left to chance.

They are greeted by front-of-house staff sporting suits with the school’s crest embroidered on their jacket pockets and matching blue and yellow waistcoats.

With the sort of courtesy normally associated with the concierge of a five-star hotel, they will then give their honoured visitors a guided tour of a school campus like no other.

First stop must be the £55 million sports and science building, which opened in 2020, complete with a rooftop running track which has sea views. This houses 18 university-standard laboratories, a cinema (officially known as the ‘auditorium’), a ‘strength and conditioning suite’ with parquet floor, a 25-metre heated indoor pool and double-height sports hall with basketball court and dance studio.

And you’ll find no chilly dormitories at Brighton College. Top London designers were hired to ensure that the ‘boarding facilities are a real home away from home’, with students limited to three beds per room and all sixth formers entitled to a single room.

Brighton College is just under £65,000 a year for a full sixth-form boarder - the most expensive school in Britain

Brighton College is just under £65,000 a year for a full sixth-form boarder – the most expensive school in Britain 

New House, one of the girls’ boarding houses at this mixed school, was awarded a RIBA architectural prize and longlisted for the prestigious Stirling prize.

Naturally, the standard of teaching at this temple of learning is second to none, with 89 per cent of students achieving an A* or A at A-level in 2022.

But such sumptuous surroundings and high-octane tutoring comes at a price: just under £65,000 a year for a full sixth-form boarder to be precise. This week it emerged that Brighton College is the most expensive school in Britain.

We can reveal it also has a claim to being the wokest educational institution in the country. This is largely thanks to the right-on leadership of Richard Cairns, the college’s headmaster since 2006.

Over the years, Mr Cairns – who has a gift for attracting headlines – has been charged by his critics with making identity politics part of the curriculum. Ten years after taking the helm, he introduced gender-neutral uniforms in an effort to accommodate transgender students.

‘If some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that,’ Mr Cairns said at the time.

These days, the school’s website says: ‘We do not have a ‘Boys’ Uniform’ and a ‘Girls’ Uniform’, rather a ‘Trouser Uniform’ and a ‘Skirt Uniform’,’ adding that it was ‘reacting to a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school.’

The college began an ongoing involvement in the city's annual Pride parade. 'Participation in Pride is a part of our wider commitment to LGBT+ rights,' says the school

The college began an ongoing involvement in the city’s annual Pride parade. ‘Participation in Pride is a part of our wider commitment to LGBT+ rights,’ says the school 

A year after the non-binary uniforms were brought in, actor and LGBT+ rights activist Sir Ian McKellen was invited to the college to discuss homophobic bullying.

Shortly afterwards, the college began an ongoing involvement in the city’s annual Pride parade. Mr Cairns entered into the spirit of the occasion that first year by dressing as Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Since then, pupils and staff design and build an expensive float every year, with banners and placards, while the dance school choreographs a special piece to be performed during the march.

‘Participation in Pride is a part of our wider commitment to LGBT+ rights,’ says the school. ‘We have been Stonewall Ambassadors, have active pupil-led Gender and Rainbow Straight Alliance societies at school, and celebrate LGBT+ history month with events and talks for all year groups.’

Mr Cairns, who is clearly proud of his agenda-setting role, said: ‘There are heads who resist tackling these issues because they wonder what parents will say.’

But, according to one leading educational consultant, it’s more a case of what private school students might say if a school does not embrace a woke agenda.

‘Because of social media and the drip, drip of politically correct thinking, students feel more and more empowered and will make life difficult for a school if they don’t believe it is sufficiently progressive and on-message,’ she said.

Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union, greets such an approach with a world-weary sigh.

The standard of teaching at this temple of learning is second to none, with 89 per cent of students achieving an A* or A at A-level in 2022. Pictured: Headmaster Richard Cairns

The standard of teaching at this temple of learning is second to none, with 89 per cent of students achieving an A* or A at A-level in 2022. Pictured: Headmaster Richard Cairns 

‘It’s not that surprising that the most expensive private school in the country teaches children all this woke gobbledegook,’ he says. ‘This vocabulary has become the lingua franca of the ruling class and you need to know how to use it if you’re going to get a job at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. In the same way that top public schools taught Latin and Greek 100 years ago, they now teach children ‘Woke-ish’.’

Increasingly, private schools are also keen to publicise their eco credentials and Brighton College strives to lead from the front on green issues, too.

‘The carbon footprint of UK schools currently stands at 9.4 m tonnes of greenhouse gases per year,’ it says in a recently published ‘social responsibility report’. ‘Brighton College is signed up to the #LetsGoZero schools campaign, uniting schools across the UK who are working to become carbon neutral.’ 

In keeping with these aims, its newest buildings have an ‘excellent’ rating for sustainability. It adds: ‘The Yeoh Building uses harvested rainwater in its toilets.’

But, to some, it might seem strange that while a school whose grounds were created by George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, as an extra-parochial ecclesiastical district, has lengthy passages about climate change on its website, it makes no mention of the word ‘Christian’.

READ MORE: Fees at some of Britain’s most prestigious private schools soar above £50,000 a year for the first time

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This could well be attributable to a desire not to offend the sensibilities of many of its pupils and their parents, who come from different religious traditions.

‘Follow the money,’ might not be the most edifying of mottos for establishments in the business of educating young minds, but it sums up the approach of many top private schools when it comes to attracting pupils. Brighton College is no exception.

Founded in 1845 by a wealthy merchant called William Aldwin Soames, it now has Middle East campuses in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, along with two others in Bangkok and Singapore (both cities with a high number of the super-wealthy).

And the super-wealthy expect standards, not just in the quality of teaching – Mandarin is compulsory for all 13 and 14-year-olds, incidentally – but in the buildings, sports facilities, and IT systems.

Naturally, the after-school clubs and extra-curricular activities must be top-notch too – paintballing and go-karting are available for those who stay at weekends – and the food should rival a Michelin-starred restaurant’s.

To this end, the College drafted in Ben McKellar, the chef-patron of the high-end Gingerman restaurant group, to revamp its lunch menus.

Forget chicken and chips with a dollop of ketchup, pupils are served the likes of steamed salmon or poached egg with sweet potato cakes, spinach puree and toasted seeds. Needless to say, vegetarian options are offered.

Woke or non-woke, institutions like Brighton College – and parents of children attending them – face worrying times. Labour plans to force private schools to charge VAT on fees and is threatening to deprive them of their charitable status, a move that would mean they lose extensive tax advantages.

‘The crunch will come in 2024 and 2025,’ said Melanie Sanderson, managing editor of the Good Schools Guide. ‘Either schools will have to cut back on their costs or freeze any further fee increases for a few years.’

Brighton College might well continue to be the Rolls-Royce of schools but is there a chance that it may have over-extended itself? Overdone the luxury?

‘We have allowed the apparently endless queue of wealthy families from across the world knocking at our doors to blind us to a simple truth: we charge too much,’ said Andrew Halls, the former head of King’s College School in Wimbledon, South-West London.

But Mr Halls didn’t say that this week. He made his comments almost ten years ago, lamenting that ‘first the nurses stopped sending children to us, then the policemen, the armed forces officers, then even the local accountants and lawyers. The most prestigious schools in the world teach children of the very wealthiest families in the world.’

Brighton College’s fees, after factoring in the current rate of inflation, mean that its parents (many no doubt with help from trust funds or off-shore accounts) will need to find more than £400,000 per child to cover five years of GCSEs, followed by A-levels.

Clearly, only people with pockets as deep as an oligarch’s need apply.

If you are Year 13 in upper sixth-form, it will set you back £21,640 for full boarding, whereas day fees are £10,080. 

Boarding options are not available for year seven or year eight.  

Oscar-winning actor George Sanders went to Brighton College. His performance as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve won him an Oscar and he starred in the film alongside Marilyn Monroe. 

He also voiced Shere Khan, the tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book. 

Uppingham

Term fees: From £15,174 a term 

It hails itself a place for forward thinkers, but Uppingham in Rutland - once attended by Stephen Fry and Rick Stein - is not short of quirky traditions

It hails itself a place for forward thinkers, but Uppingham in Rutland – once attended by Stephen Fry and Rick Stein – is not short of quirky traditions

It hails itself a place for forward thinkers, but Uppingham in Rutland – once attended by Stephen Fry and Rick Stein – is not short of quirky traditions.

Head boys and girls can keep a goat on the Head’s Lawn and the entire school takes part in an annual run called the Routh which dates back to 1895.

It recently produced a ‘West End standard’ 120-strong production of Oliver and offers a Space Club which is working towards launching a probe.

The school costs £15,174 to board and £9,858 for Day students. If you are an international pupil, you will have to pay deposit of £15,174.

Other notable mentions by Tatler  

Best Head of a Prep School

Neill Lunnon, Formerly at Fulham Prep School

Will Brooks, Brambletye

Sid Inglis, Elstree

Suzannah Cryer, Highfield & Brookham Schools

Shona Colaço, Knightsbridge School

Best Head of a Public School

Helen Harrison, Fettes College

Irfan Latif, DLD College

James Dahl, Wellington College

Gareth Parker-Jones, Rugby School

Helen Pike, Magdalen College School

Staff members who have dedicated their life to a school 

  • Anne Armstrong, Aysgarth School (35 years as Senior Matron)
  • Neil Gemmell, Giggleswick School
  • Mark Snell, formerly Headmaster of Wetherby School, now UK Director of Education for Inspired
  • Kirsten Knight, Mowden Hall School
  • Alison Bridge, Ludgrove School
  • Rebecca de Pelet, Sherborne School

Invaluable individuals who work behind the scenes

  • Tim Garrard, Westminster School
  • Paul Williams, Epsom College
  • Susan Turnbull, Sunningdale School
  • Steve Gilden, Lockers Park
  • Helen Day, Loretto
  • (Post-humous) Kevin Rogers, City of London School

Eco Warrior 

  • City of London School
  • Yarm School
  • Walhampton
  • Beeston Hall School
  • Windlesham House



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