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State school is an expression used in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom to distinguish schools provided by the government from privately run schools.


United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the term, "state school", refers to government-funded schools which provide education free of charge to pupils. The contrast to this are fee-paying schools, often called "independent schools", "private schools" or "public schools" (in the UK only; in the US, for example, public schools are government-funded).

According to the Good Schools Guide,[1]

In the UK, state schools exist in a bewildering variety of forms. Over the last hundred years, successive governments have struggled to improve education by reforming its structure, over and over again. What all state schools have in common is that they are entirely free to parents, being funded through taxation.

In England and Wales the term "public school" is often used to refer to fee-paying schools. "Public" is used here in a somewhat archaic sense, meaning that they are open to any member of the public, distinguished from religious schools which are open only to members of that religion. Some people call only the older fee-paying schools, "public schools", while others use the term for any such school.

In Scotland, where the educational system is distinctly different from the rest of UK, the term "public school" was once used officially to describe state schools (being, as they were, publicly owned) - although preference is now being given to the term "state school". Use of "public school" in Scotland is ambiguous in definition as it can be used in both contexts as schools such as Fettes College in Edinburgh are often considered alongside other independent private schools; however, the peculiarly Scottish use of the term has found favour abroad, particularly in the United States and Canada.

The National Curriculum is followed in all local authority maintained schools in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Academies, which are state schools, but not maintained by local authorities, have more freedom to adapt the National Curriculum. In Northern Ireland secondary-level schools are divided into Grammar schools, Secondary schools and Catholic-maintained schools, with an increasing number of Integrated schools. There are also a small number of voluntary Irish Language schools.[2]

Throughout education in the UK, the vast majority of state-funded schools are under the control of local councils (Local Education Authorities in England and Wales, Department of Education in Northern Ireland), and are referred to in official literature as "maintained schools". The exceptions are a minority of secondary schools in England funded directly by central government, known as academies and City Technology Colleges.

Some state schools, known as faith schools, have formal links with religious organisations, and are permitted to promote a particular religious ethos and to use faith criteria in their admissions. Some maintained schools are partially funded by religious or other charitable bodies; these are known as voluntary controlled schools, voluntary aided schools or foundation schools.

The oldest state school in England is Beverley Grammar School, which was founded in 700 AD.


In Australia state schools are the responsibility of the state governments. States Schools grew out of the system of National Schools in the mid-19th century.

South Africa

In South Africa, a state school or government school refers to a school that is state-controlled. These are officially called public schools according to the South African Schools Act of 1996, but it is a term that is not used colloquially.

United States

In the United States, "state school" is a colloquial term for state university, a college or university in a state university system. Public school refers to primary and secondary schools which are funded and/or run by a governmental entity.

"State school" is also a term used somewhat condescendingly or derisively by students and alumni of some "University of" schools to refer to "State University" schools of the same state, e.g., referring to any California State University from the perspective of the University of California.

In many states, "State School" is used in the same manner as "State Hospital" to denote an institution for the mentally retarded. See, for example, Texas State Schools[3].


  1. ^
  2. ^ BBC
  3. ^ Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services

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