Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, finds the census results "remarkable"
ISC reports record pupil numbers
The Independent Schools Council's latest census reveals that 5,000 more places have been filled at its member schools this year
Posted by Dave Higgitt | May 01, 2015 | People, policy, politics
ISC, census, independent schools, Independent Schools Council

There are now 517,113 pupils at Independent Schools Council (ISC) schools, more than at any other time. Pupil numbers are now higher than they were before the recession started. They are up from 511,928 in 2014.

This increase has been fuelled by both British and international pupils coming to ISC schools. There are 27,211 international pupils with parents living overseas, 5.3 percent of total pupil numbers, little changed from 1982, when the proportion of international pupils was 4.4 percent. There are more ISC schools than last year, with a total number of 1,267 schools up from 1,257 schools last year.

These figures come from the 2015 ISC annual census of all its schools throughout the UK each year.

Other findings include: 14 percent of all school children aged 16 and over now attend an ISC school, with pupils moving to independent schools throughout their education. Pupils are moving between the state and independent sectors at all ages, but this is most significant in the sixth form, where there are now 89,617 pupils. Seven percent of school children overall are educated at independent schools.

Julie Robinson, the new general secretary of the ISC, said: “It is no surprise that parents are choosing ISC schools for the crucial sixth-form years. ISC pupils have an outstanding track record at A level, with 51 percent of entries achieving A* and A grades, compared to 26 percent nationally. That means 92 percent of our pupils move onto higher education, with the majority going to Russell Group universities.”

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, added: “It is remarkable that, although we are only at the start of an economic recovery, the number of pupils at UK independent schools is at the highest level since records began in 1974. It shows that parents continue to value an independent education. 

“ISC schools offer consistent high standards, reflected in a tremendous record of academic achievement, stimulating opportunities for pupils outside the classroom and a professional approach to pastoral care. It is no surprise that British independent schools are seen as amongst the best in the world.”  

Regional findings

Schools in different parts of the country have faced different challenges during the recession. Pupil numbers have increased significantly in Wales, with a 4.7 percent increase in pupil numbers to 7,756 pupils. Wales has been hard hit by the economic recession and this is the first increase in pupil numbers since 2008.

Paul Norton, principal of King’s Norton School in Cardiff, said: “Our entry for year seven this year has doubled. It is unheard of for us. We had 33 applications for 15 scholarship places. Parents are drawn to our small class sizes, the inclusive community and the flexible curriculum that can meet their children’s needs. We have also invested in new IT facilities and are offering a computer science programme run in conjunction with Cardiff University, that is proving very popular with parents.

“Over 90 percent of parents who visit the school then want a place for their child. Parents tell us they are being helped by grandparents and cutting holidays to get the best for their children.”

Dr Adam England, director of the Welsh ISC, said: “There are new employers coming to Wales, such as Sony, Pinewood and Ford, bringing new employees and they are boosting the local economy. We are seeing more pupils coming to independent schools and more demand for places at our schools here.”

For the first time since the recession, pupil numbers have also risen in the north. Numbers of pupils at schools in the north now stand at over 69,000.

Hilary French, head of Newcastle High School for Girls, said: “There is a growing mood of optimism, a sense that local industry and businesses are thriving. We are definitely seeing that translate into an increased demand for places, with a lot more interest in our school, particularly at junior level and in the sixth form, where we have a strong track record locally.

“We are now building a new senior school building, following our merger last year with a school that was just 350 metres away.”

There are also sizeable increases in the West Midlands (1.7 percent growth) and East Anglia (0.7 percent growth). There are 36,484 pupils in independent schools in the West Midlands and 61,331 in East Anglia.

Bursary figures

The number of pupils now receiving help with fees has risen to 170,000, to a value of £836 million, up £60 million from last year. This continues an upward trend over the course of the last 15 years.

Over 40,000 pupils receive means-tested bursaries, valued at £350 million, an increase of 6 percent compared to last year. The average bursary is worth £8,277 per pupil per year. There are 5,406 pupils who pay no fees at all.

Barnaby Lenon, ISC chairman, commented: “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.”

School fees, on the other hand, have shown the lowest annual increase, at 3.5 percent, since 1994. The average day fee is now £4,174 per term. Increases have been attributed to increases all schools have faced for management and administration, maintenance costs and teachers’ salaries and pensions.

School population figures

ISC schools range from large boarding schools to small day schools and include single-sex (with 134,742 pupils), co-educational (with 382,389 pupils), day and boarding schools, senior schools and prep or junior schools, with 55 percent of schools having less than 350 pupils. Of all pupils 86 percent are day attenders. Twenty-nine percent of pupils are from a minority ethnic background, a proportion which has increased over time from 23 percent in 2009. There are also specialist schools for children with special educational needs and schools providing specialist education in music and dance, such as The Royal Ballet School.