Public school (UK) - Definition
A public school, in common English usage, is a (usually) prestigious school which charges fees and is not financed by thestate. In Scotland and the United States, a public school is a government-maintained school where instruction is provided free of charge, and an independent, fee-charging school is called a private school. It is traditionally a single sex boarding school (although many now accept day pupils and are coeducational). The majority date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, and several are over 400 yearsold.
The English usage is in direct opposition to what any foreign English speaker would expect. In English usage, a government-run school (which would be called a 'public school' in other areas, such as Scotland and the United States) is called a state school.
The term 'public' (first adopted by Eton College) refers to the fact that the school is open to the paying public, as opposed to areligious school, which was open only to members of a certain church. It also distinguished it from a private education at home (usually only practical for the very wealthy who could afford tutors).
Origins of public schools
Some public schools are particularly old, such as Westminster (founded 1179), Winchester (1382), Eton (1440), Bedford (1552), Shrewsbury School (1552), Rugby (1567), Harrow(1572), Uppingham (1584) and Charterhouse (1611). These were often established for male scholars from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds. The educational reforms were particularly important under Arnold at Rugby, and Butler and later Kennedy at Shrewsbury, emphasizing the importance of scholarship and competitive examinatons.
Most public schools, however, developed during the 18th and 19thcenturies, and came to play an important role in the development of the Victorian social elite. Under a number of forward-looking headmasters leading public schools created a curriculum based heavily on classics and physical activity for boys and young men of the upper and upper middle classes.
They were schools for the gentlemanly elite of Victorian politics, armed forces and colonial government.Often successful businessmen would send their sons to public school as a mark of participation in the elite. Much of the discipline was in the hands of senior pupils (in some schools, known as prefects), which was not just a means to reduce staffing costs, but was also seen as preparation for military or public service. To an extent, the public school system influenced the school systems of theBritish empire, and recognisably 'public' schools can be found in many Commonwealth countries.
For a fuller listing of public and other independent schools in Britain, see List of UK Independent Schools. The head teachers of major British independent boys' and mixed schools belong to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), and a common definition of a publicschool is any school whose head teacher is a member of the HMC. However some do not consider every HMC school to be a typical public school, and thus other definitions are sometimes employed. Nor does this definition does include any girls' schools; it is debatable as to whether girls' schools can be considered public schools.
Prior to the Clarendon Commission, a Royal Commission that investigatedthe public school system in England between 1861 and 1864, there was no clear definition of a public school. The commission investigated nine of the more established schools: two day schools (Merchant Taylors' and St. Paul's) and seven boarding schools (Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester). A report published by the commission formed the basis of the Public...