”All schools are committed to encouraging pupils to pursue what interests them most, and part of that is offering a strong co-curricular and sport programme.” 

There is no doubt that independent schools offer excellent tuition, coaching and facilities. This is particularly the case in full boarding schools, where pupils are onsite each evening and weekend to make maximum use of the provision. However, what stands the UK offer apart from its US counterparts is the sheer range and variety of opportunities that pupils are encouraged to participate in.

All schools are committed to encouraging pupils to pursue what interests them most, and part of that is offering a strong co-curricular and sport programme. Many schools offer diverse programmes throughout each term and capitalise on the facilities and expertise of expert practitioners. Take Millfield and Mount Kelly’s Olympic size swimming pools, Stowe & Millfield’s equestrian centres with their own derby courses, St. Edward’s Oxford’s professional standard music hall or the chance to be coached by former International and Olympic athletes, as examples; they are not ‘standard’ facilities or ‘standard’ options you see at every school, whether independent or otherwise.

In co-curricular, pursuing music, drama or art, pupils can seek their fulfilment and development through performing in plays, music concerts or producing artwork in a medium of their choice. Having access to specialist teachers, using art studios or music practice rooms in the evenings, all adds to the investment by pupils and staff alike. It is also about embracing the current interests of the pupils to get the best out of them. Many school Music Departments, for example, offer both popular and classical music options, recognising that popular music often engages pupils far more effectively than classical. From a sporting perspective, keeping young people engaged in sport during their adolescent years can be a challenge, particularly for girls. Offering a relevant wellbeing programme, alongside varied opportunities and access to facilities that might be out of theordinary, stands British schools in good stead.

To encourage participation, many schools operate an early diversification approach; that is to say, pupils are encouraged to try out a great variety of sports in their early years at school, without specialising too soon. One leading UK independent school offers 28 different sports as well as 35 different games activities, enjoyed, at minimum, twice a week. All 28 sports are open to girls, and 27 to boys (they do not play netball). Larger year groups also allow pupils greater flexibility to participate in different sports without affecting the school’s capability to put on fixtures at A, B and C team level which are so important to progress and development in a particular sport.

Whether you pick a school for its strength in a particular core sport, such as swimming, rugby, tennis or cricket or for a more niche offer in golf, riding, modern pentathlon or fencing, regular high level coaching and opportunity to experiment with different sports is a vital part of what makes independent school sport so appealing.

We know that sport develops pupils’ confidence and resilience through physical, technical and mental stimulus, and exposure to teamwork and leadership opportunities. As part of this, the Millfield Institute of Sport and Wellbeing offers an added layer of support, providing athlete provision across nutrition, physiotherapy, performance analysis, and strength and conditioning.

Activities programmes can offer over 100 activities further engages our pupils in interests that might be completely different from their usual areas of focus, such as girls’ rugby, golf, gym or ski racing. Falconry and dissection arealso popular options.

Opportunity and engagement is what makes UK independent schools stand out from the crowd.

James Postle is the Registrar of Millfield School