Pupil numbers fall at independent schools

The number of pupils attending independent schools has fallen by more than 5,000 in the past year, official figures show.

The annual census, published today, shows the number of pupils has dropped by 5,386 to 506,500 as parents struggle to afford fees in a tough economic climate. In addition, the number of pupils is being shored up by a significant rise in overseas students – up by 5.5 per cent to 24,000. The largest overseas contingent is from Hong Kong and China.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which produces the figures, argues that they do not compare like with like, as 26 fewer schools submitted census returns this year. It says that if you compare the figures from the schools which submitted their returns in both years, the drop is only 0.2 per cent. However, 14 of the 26 schools which did not submit their returns closed during the past year.

David Lyscom, the chief executive of ISC, said independent schools were "showing remarkable resilience against a difficult economic background". The figures had to be seen against an overall 0.6 per cent drop in pupil numbers because of a fall in the birth rate, he said.

The census also showed that the popularity of boarding schools was increasing with a 1.7 per cent increase in boarding numbers to 68,102. Private school fees rose on average by 4.5 per cent in the past year – the second-lowest rate since 1994.

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