Private schools in UK attracting record numbers of students

Guardian, 01/05/15,  rise in those attending independent schools in Britain is underpinned by increasing numbers of pupils coming from overseas. References HMC and HMC member schools Eton, Roedean and Manchester Grammar and HMC member Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College is quoted commenting on the latest latest ISC Census results.

Independent schools in Britain appear to have weathered the economic downturn with record numbers now attending fee-paying private schools – although the rise is underpinned by increasing numbers of pupils from overseas.

The annual census conducted by the Independent Schools Council of more than 1,200 private schools found 517,000 pupils enrolled in 2015, the highest number since it began keeping records 40 years ago.

The state of the economy appears to have dampened the rate of increase in school fees for the first time in many years. The average annual fee for a day pupil is more than £13,000 a year – a rise of more than 3% compared with last year, but 37% higher than the £9,600 average in 2008.

In comparison, state secondary schools in England receive an average of £4,500 per pupil. This amount varies widely by local authority, from £4,000 in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire to £7,000 in Tower Hamlets. There is extra funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special needs, as well as additional payments depending on the type of school and location.

The ISC census combines data from around half of private schools in the UK, with members from the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) which includes high-profile private schools such as Eton, Roedean and Manchester Grammar, as well as from the Girls’ Schools Association and the Independent Association of Prep Schools.

Richard Cairns, headteacher of Brighton College, said the census showed the strength of independent schools in attracting pupils aged 16 and above, and preparing them for higher education.

“In times of economic uncertainty, with young people facing a tougher jobs market than ever, parents are responding by investing money in their children’s secondary education in order to make sure that they get the top grades that leading universities now demand,” Cairns said.

“These figures also show that there are twice as many independent school students applying for university as politicians like to claim: over 14% of sixth formers rather than the 7% that is usually cited.

“They are also twice as likely to be studying the tough academic subjects that universities want. Little wonder, therefore, that Russell group universities are currently recruiting record numbers of independently educated pupils.”

The ISC said that a third of all pupils received some form of support for paying their fees, although only a little over 1% – 5,400 pupils – pay no fees. Schools gave more than £700m in means-tested bursaries to 41,000 pupils, for an average of £8,000 each in fees assistance.

The total of 167,000 receiving support included 24,000 pre-schoolers who had funding from the government through its early years’ childcare support.

“It is vital we continue widening access to our schools for pupils of all backgrounds through our bursary programmes. The data this year shows that this is happening,” said Barnaby Lenon, the ISC’s chairman.

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