Boys from Brazil come to rescue of boarding schools

British boarding schools are enrolling an influx of boys from Brazil as wealthy South Americans seek a good English education for their offspring.

Growing numbers of parents in Brazil and Argentina are being attracted by the lush playing fields, traditional teaching and the chance to ensure that their children acquire flawless English - with appropriate accent.

England's public schools are replacing boarding establishments in North America for families who believe that our countryside is far safer for their sons and daughters.

A series of exhibitions on British boarding education held in three Brazilian cities last month attracted more than 40,000 parents and children interested in taking up the option of spending a term, a year or longer in one of our schools. In Argentina, some 16,000 visitors came to a similar event in Buenos Aires.

The international arm of Isis, the Independent Schools Information Service, which ran the exhibitions, says it has not seen such levels of interest in English schools from overseas since parents in Taiwan began sending their children here 10 years ago. Its director, David Woodhead, said: "Those visits have confirmed our impression gained last year that South America is where the next major market is likely to develop."

Figures to be released by Isis tomorrow will reveal that 300 children from South and Central America enrolled in British boarding schools in 1996 - up from just a handful the previous year. The rise has contributed to an overall 9 per cent increase in the number of foreign pupils enrolling compared with 1995, confirming the success of English boarding schools in courting overseas markets as domestic demand for boarding declines.

Overseas recruitment began in earnest in the late Eighties as schools confronted the threat to their future, and foreign pupils now make up a quarter of the 80,000 boarders in Isis member schools, bringing some pounds 200m annually to Britain in fees. English names now jostle with Russian, German, Taiwanese and African on many school registers.

For South American parents, the essential ingredient of an English education remains the opportunity for their children to practise the language among native speakers, usually for a year. The UK appeals over the USA, according to John Towey, head of Isis International, thanks to its image as a country "where things are done properly. Britain is seen as the repository of standards".

School prospectuses featuring scenes of ivy-clad buildings set in rural landscapes flew off the stands at the South American exhibitions, he adds. "Parents there are drawn by the sense of tradition and certain codes of behaviour - the good old English gentleman side of things."

At The Leys school in Cambridge, five recent students from Brazil settled in with ease, according to the registrar, Alastair MacGregor. "One lad who was only here for a year picked up rugby and actually got his father to fly over and watch him play. His father thought it was marvellous."