Fall in independent school pupils, census shows

Image caption,
The census shows the average fees are £4,186 per term

The number of children being taught in independent schools in the UK has fallen, annual figures show.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) census showed 511,886 pupils were being privately educated, compared with 514,531 last year - a fall of 0.6%.

Considering the economic downturn, the figures were described by the private schools body as a "positive message".

The average private school fee per term was £4,186, excluding nursery fees. The census was completed by 1,260 schools.

The average boarding school fee per term was £8,003 and the average day fee was £3,571 per term.

The census showed the lowest fee increase for 16 years, with parents paying on average 4% more to educate their children this year.

A total of 161,605 pupils - 32.5% - received help with their fees and the value of this help totalled more than £660m a year.

More than 80% of assistance came directly from the schools themselves, with ISC schools providing more than £540m of assistance with fees in the academic year 2009-10.

The census revealed the pupil-teacher ratio stood at one teacher for every nine pupils, compared with an average of almost 17 pupils per teacher in maintained schools in England in 2009.

The survey showed 67,856 pupils were boarding at ISC schools, making up 13.3% of total pupil numbers, while 61% of ISC schools had no boarders at all.

Positive message

ISC chief executive David Lyscom said: "In the deepest recession for over 70 years, with a fall in GDP of over 6%, pupil numbers have fallen by only 0.6%.

"In any other economic sector this would be seen as an outstanding success.

"There are 10% more pupils at ISC schools now than there were in 1996. The fall over the last year represents an average of only two pupils per ISC school.

"The census sends a very positive message. Despite current economic difficulties, significant numbers of parents are still choosing to invest in the high quality of education for their children found in ISC schools.

"Moreover there is strong growth in pupil numbers from overseas, emphasising the worldwide reputation of UK independent education and the high esteem in which it is held."

Gillian Low, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said the sector could be "cautiously optimistic" about the future.

"Schools will be looking very carefully at their financial planning for the future and we are very aware of the circumstances in which we are operating.

"But the signs at the moment are positive."

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