Fee-paying schools prove surprisingly recession-proof

In spite of these tough economic times, interest in fee-paying schools shows no sign of slowing. A survey by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference this year revealed that its members had received a higher number of applications than in 2008. And now, it seems that open days – a bellwether for the health of the private education sector – are attracting growing numbers of parents and their offspring.

Roedean, the independent girls' school near Brighton, West Sussex, says that attendance at open days has gone up by 244 per cent in the past three years. The number of visitors to the school in February this year, including families on private tours, was up by 50 per cent on February 2008.

Stowe School in Buckinghamshire also says that interest is as strong as ever. "At the moment, things seem to be very buoyant – the open days are heavily oversubscribed," says the registrar, David Fletcher.

Parents tend to view prospective schools well in advance, and some schools, such as Charterhouse, are holding open days for entry in 2011, by which time, it is hoped, the economy will be faring better.

"Maybe parents are trying to see beyond what is happening at the moment," Fletcher says. "They have made provision during the good times. It's just a case of seeing how long the current situation will last."

Millfield, the independent school in Somerset, says demand for places is greater than last year – particularly at sixth-form level – and, in addition to its open days, the school is giving tours to around five families a day, including on weekends and holidays – a total of more than 1,000 a year.

"Despite the recession we are still getting a lot of enquiries and visits from prospective families," says Christopher Coates, tutor for admissions at Millfield. "We are still as busy as we were at this point last year. We are optimistic but we don't want to be complacent because the full effects of the recession may not yet have been felt."

In March last year, Millfield introduced a third annual open day to cope with the increased levels of interest, and 54 families attended. The same event in March 2009 pulled in 78 families. "We closed our books just over two weeks before the event," Coates says. "All those additional families requesting to attend the open day were invited to the May event instead."

Coates says that much of the current interest is from British families who are living overseas but plan to return to the UK to take advantage of lower house prices and the weak pound.

The school keeps its open days low-key – their aim is not to showcase the school, but to give an idea of a working school day. It's the typical fare of coffee with staff and students, a talk by the head and the head boy or girl, a tour of the school in groups led by prefects and, finally, lunch with the student guides and staff members.

By contrast, King Edward's school in Birmingham tries to have as much as possible going on – from rugby and water polo matches to drama practices. "What I say to parents is, 'This is us with our party frock on,'" says Nicole Phillips, admissions co-ordinator at King Edward's. "It's us showing what we can do."

The school has a policy of sending out individual invitations to parents who have expressed interest – perhaps by requesting a prospectus – which the school says has helped to sustain numbers at open days. "It reminds parents of the date and makes them feel we're interested, that we want them to come – which is true," Phillips says.

Her son is at King Edward's, and she says that attending the open day was a vital experience – and not just for the parents. "I'll always remember the screaming jelly baby experiment in the chemistry lab," she says. "It really gets the boys excited and thinking, 'Yes, I'd like to come to this school.'"

This "showcase" approach to open days is likely to heat up as the independent schools' Open Days show approaches. The event, which is being hosted by isbi schools at Newbury Racecourse, Berkshire in October, is a chance for schools to catch the eyes of would-be pupils and their parents, with artists, scientists, sports teams and CCF corps in attendance. "We will be having some really interesting events, teams and pupils doing their bit at the show," says Richard Essberger, managing director of isbi schools.

"The moment I mention to schools that we want to showcase their talent, they start bubbling over with enthusiasm, 'Well, that will be our jazz band, then, or maybe the heavy metal group might be better,'" Essberger says.

Open days: Stowe, 25 April (sixth form) and 16 May (13-plus); Roedean, 4 May; Millfield, 9 May; King Edward's School, Birmingham, 30 June

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine