The Independent Schools Council

Queen Ethelburga's College Students RevisionAn overview of the Independent Schools Council, its information services and its constituent independent schools associations

Choosing a boarding school takes time, and careful research is essential if the right decisions are to be made. When beginning your search, it is helpful to have an understanding of the associations and organisations that provide advice and information on independent boarding schools in the UK.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC)

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The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings seven associations together to represent over 1,260 independent schools in the UK. These schools are ranked among the best in the world and educate more than half a million children each year, around 80% of independently educated pupils.

The ISC works with its members to promote and preserve the quality, diversity and excellence of UK independent education both at home and abroad. Boarding schools continue to be popular in the 21st century, offering exceptional education and extracurricular activities with round-the-clock pastoral care. 70,642 pupils board at ISC schools, making up 13.7% of total pupil numbers, and 485 ISC schools (38.6% of the total) have at least one boarding pupil.

Parents can consult the ISC website ( for more information about the independent schools in its membership, including information about boarding where it is offered. Each school is a member of one or more of the following associations, which will be able to help with enquiries. Further organisations are affiliate members of the ISC: the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, the Welsh Independent Schools Council, the Boarding Schools’ Association and the Council of British International Schools.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC)

WhitespaceAn organisation of heads of boys’, girls’ and co-educational senior schools

HMC is made up of the headteachers (not the schools themselves) of 270 senior schools. It was founded in 1869, and exists to serve and support its members, to represent their views and to exemplify excellence in education. In particular, HMC seeks to: help heads to be more effective as leaders and managers; promote the discussion of national and international educational issues; and influence national policy and public opinion with regard to the independent sector. Members meet termly in geographical regions and once a year at the Annual Conference.

About a quarter of HMC schools consist mainly of boarders, whilst others have a smaller boarding element. Most schools are noted for their academic excellence, with around 92% of pupils going on to higher education. Only the heads of those schools that meet the rigorous membership criteria are admitted. Bursaries and scholarships provided by the schools give over a third of the 215,271 pupils in HMC schools help with their fees. About 40,000 pupils are boarders.

All HMC schools are happy to receive direct enquiries. Other enquiries should be addressed to:

Dr William Richardson, General Secretary, HMC, 12 The Point, Rockingham Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7QU Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7QU

Tel: +44 (0)1858 469059 Fax: +44 (0)1858 469532

E-mail: Web:

The Society of Heads

Fulneck School Pupils TeacherThe Society of Heads (formerly SHMIS) is an organisation currently comprising 110 heads of boys’, girls’ and co-educational senior schools, most of which are smaller independent schools with a tradition of boarding, and which educate some 40,000 pupils. The Society was founded in 1961 to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and the pursuit of excellence in all spheres of school life. The Society also ensures that schools are inspected regularly, provides training opportunities for staff and promotes links with higher education.

All member schools provide education up to 18, with some sixth forms offering the IB or vocational courses alongside a wide range of AS- and A-levels. Many have junior schools attached. A number cater for pupils with special educational needs or for gifted dancers and musicians.

You can send enquiries about the Society of Heads to: Clive Rickart, General Secretary, The Society of Heads, 12 The Point, Rockingham Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7QU

Tel: +44 (0)1858 433760 Fax: +44 (0)1858 461413

E-mail: Web:

Hockey Extracurricular ActivityThe Girls’ Schools Association (GSA)

The GSA represents the heads of many of the top-performing day and boarding schools in the UK independent schools sector and is the main professional association to which heads of senior independent girls’ schools belong.

The GSA encourages high standards of education for girls and promotes the benefits of being taught in a largely girls-only environment. Approximately 35% of GSA schools provide full boarding facilities and the majority of these also offer flexi-boarding, where pupils spend part of the week as a day pupil and part as a boarder. Innovative practice and academic rigour attract pupils from around the world.

Academic performance is impressive, with 94% of students progressing to university. Nevertheless, GSA schools are just as likely to encourage excellence outside the classroom, with an impressive choice of extracurricular activities. Former GSA school pupils are among the most noteworthy high achievers of the UK and indeed the world. They include world-leading scientists, international charity campaigners, famous actresses, war correspondents, Olympic medallists and business women at the highest levels.

For more information contact: Charlotte Vere, Executive Director, Girls’ Schools Association, Suite 105, 108 New Walk, Leicester LE1 7EA

Tel: +44 (0)116 254 1619

E-mail: Web:

Food Boarding Schools Camp Fire ToastThe Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS)

IAPS is a professional body for heads of independent prep schools

With more than 600 schools in the UK and overseas, IAPS actively promotes the interests of its members and the sector as a whole. The Association provides professional support to its member schools, giving advice on the curriculum, assessment, classroom and school organisation, and employment matters. It also offers highly regarded professional development courses for heads and teachers. Membership requirements are high and schools must undergo inspections to ensure that they reach accreditation standards.

For more about IAPS and its members’ schools, contact: David Hanson, Chief Executive, IAPS, 11 Waterloo Place, Leamington Spa CV32 5LA

Tel: +44 (0)1926 887833 Fax: +44 (0)1926 888014

E-mail: Web:

Wycombe Abbey Students Art LessonThe Independent Schools Association (ISA)

Members include the heads of around 350 junior and senior schools, and schools for children of all ages

The ISA comprises the heads of a variety of schools: co-educational and single-sex schools; boarding and day schools; senior and junior schools. The Association was founded in 1879 and currently has around 350 member schools, which educate approximately 80,000 pupils. The ISA admits heads when satisfied as to their suitability and the quality of their schools. The ISA’s schools are often values-driven and genuinely focus on meeting the needs of all pupils.

The Association arranges inter-school and inter-area competitions and festivals in sport, drama, art and music, and provides training opportunities and two annual conferences. It works in conjunction with other professional bodies in order to maintain due recognition for independent schools by the UK Government and the public.

For further information, contact: Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive Officer, ISA, 1 Boys’ British School, East Street, Saffron Walden, Essex CB10 1LS Tel: +44 (0)1799 523619

E-mail: Web:

Royal Hospital School Great East Swim TeamCouncil of British International Schools (COBIS)

COBIS is a membership association serving British international schools of global quality, with a membership base of more than 400 schools and commercial organisations in over 65 countries worldwide

Accredited COBIS membership is awarded to schools that meet the British Government approved standards for British schools overseas (BSO) and which have been inspected by one of the inspectorates approved by the Department for Education. BSO inspections offer rigorous quality assurance and are monitored by Ofsted.

As well as quality assurance across all categories of COBIS school membership, a fundamental aim of COBIS is to support its members and represent their interests in Britain and overseas, particularly with government, education authorities and educational associations, in order to advance the interests of British schools outside the UK. COBIS also provides regular forums for discussion through conferences, seminars and continuing professional development, as well as a network of support through contacts, consultancies, research, information and promotional activities. In addition COBIS promotes child protection, safeguarding and safer recruitment practices to the international school community, which includes Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) criminal background checks for COBIS member and non-member schools.

For more about COBIS and schools within the association, contact: Colin Bell, CEO, COBIS, St Mary’s University, Waldegrave Road, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham TW1 4SX

Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4142

E-mail: Web:

Strathallan School Bloodhound SSC Car TeamThe Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS)

AGBIS provides training, advice and guidance to governing bodies of member schools

Membership of AGBIS is available to those schools whose heads belong to HMC, GSA, IAPS, ISA, COBIS or the Society of Heads, and who meet the current membership criteria, subject to the approval of the AGBIS Board of Directors. Associate membership is also available to members of the Scottish Independent Schools Council and the Welsh Independent Schools Council.

For more information, contact: Stuart Westley, General Secretary, AGBIS, The Grange, 3 Codicote Road, Welwyn, Herts AL6 9LY

Tel: +44 (0)1438 840730 Fax: +44 (0)5603 432632

E-mail: or Web:

Bedales School Pre Prep Fun Run For CharitiesIndependent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA)

The ISBA is a charitable company limited by guarantee whose object is the advancement of education in independent schools

The ISBA achieves its object by promoting efficient and effective financial management, administration and operational practice. Although it is the school and not the bursar that is the member of the ISBA, the bursar is usually the school’s nominated representative.

Full membership of the ISBA is open to any UK school or educational provider in membership of one of the constituent associations of the ISC and which is separately constituted under its own governing document. Associate membership is open to other educational providers or independent schools, which are not separately constituted. Currently, there are over 990 ISBA members, including some 45 overseas associate members.

For more information, contact: David Woodgate, Chief Executive, ISBA, Bluett House, Unit 11–12, Manor Farm, Cliddesden, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG25 2JB

Tel: +44 (0)1256 330369 Fax: +44 (0)1256 330376

E-mail: Web: