An independent school is a school which is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operation and is instead operated by tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the investment yield of an endowment.
The terms independent school and private school are often synonyms in popular usage in the U.S. and in Canada. Independent schools may have a religious affiliation, but the more precise usage of the term excludes parochial schools and other schools with financial dependence upon outside organizations.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the more prestigious independent schools are known as public schools, sometimes categorised as major and minor public schools. Membership of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference is often considered as what defines a school as a public school, though this includes many independent grammar schools. When founded, such schools were indeed 'public', that is intended for those who could not afford education; they have long since lost their raison d'être. Detractors of present day public schools generally prefer the term 'private school'.
In Scotland, those schools which are not dependent on state funding are known as independent schools.
In Australia, where the term is also used interchangeably with private school, independent schools are the fastest growing education sector and over 85% of them have a religious or church affiliation. There are currently 1,078 independent schools catering for 491,000 students in Australia (as of 2006). Some independent schools are prestigious and enrolment highly sought after, with tuition fees to match, however since the 1980s the number of low-fee schools catering for 'average' Australians, and in some cases without any religious affiliation, has increased significantly. Independent schools in Australia make up nearly 15% of total enrolments while Catholic schools, which usually have lower fees, also make up a sizeable proportion (18%) and are usually regarded as a school sector of their own within the broad category of independent schools. Enrolments in non-government schools has been growing steadily at the expense of enrolments in government schools which have seen their enrolment share reduce from 78% to 67% since 1970. Australian independent schools differ slightly from those in the United States as the Australian Government provides funding to all schools including independent schools using a 'needs based' funding scheme based on a Socio-Economic Status (SES) score. The school's SES score is derived by selecting a sample of parent's addresses and mapping these to a Census Collector District from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census. The household income & education data is then used to derive an SES score for each school, which places it on a sliding scale of funding entitlement. On average, funding granted to an independent school is 47% of that required to operate a government school, the residual being made up by tuition fees paid by parents.