The number of continental pupils at independent schools has risen by 11 per cent in the past year. The rise has been most marked among youngsters from France and Germany, where the rise has been 24 per cent, Spain (31 per cent) and Russia (38 per cent).
European families have told headteachers they are worried about worsening conditions in their local state schools. In particular, Germany, whose education system was once the envy of the Western world, with its technical schools running alongside the more academic stream, has seen growing discipline problems and rising class sizes since reunification.
Other headteachers said the growth of cheap flights was an influence. Other factors are the sport and music in the UK curriculum, smaller classes and individual attention given to pupils.
Geoffrey Boult, headteacher of Giggleswick School, a boarding school in North Yorkshire, said: "I visited Germany recently and saw class sizes of over 35. Also, our schools don't turn them out at 1.30pm when they go into the bars and cafés abroad."
Many parents had opted for UK schools because they wanted their children to go on to study in a British or American university.
Overall pupil numbers in independent schools went up by 1,359 to 504,141. Of this figure, 870 were from overseas.