The news that British independent schools are receiving a record influx of pupils from overseas is not surprising. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), fee-charging schools in the UK achieve the best results of any type of school in the world. If you examine the statistics, they account for nearly 40 per cent of students getting three A grades or better at A-level, yet only 7 per cent of pupils attend these schools. So, overseas parents are making a rational, if expensive, choice in deciding to send their offspring away to boarding school in a far-off land. And it really is the other side of the world in many cases. The largest international group within private schools comes from China and Hong Kong. The parents of such children must definitely think it is worth shelling out as much as £30,000 a year per child, plus the cost of air fares and a school uniform, to give their darlings a good start in life.
The reason that British boarding schools do so well comes down to a combination of three factors. First, they have favourable teacher-pupil ratios. Second, they invest in facilities like sports fields, theatres and art rooms. And, third, they have traditions that the parents hope they will instill in their children. But there seem to be two extra reasons this year why the number of pupils from overseas has risen: one is that schools are making special efforts to recruit more of them to help ride out the recession; the other is that European families have been attracted by private schools offering the International Baccalaureate in addition to A-levels.
Independent schools are wise to seek out new markets at a time when British parents are feeling the pinch and in view of the fact that it takes two or three years before the impact of a recession is felt by private schools. There is also concern that a possible future Conservative government might introduce new "free" schools that could eat into private schools' traditional clientele.
The presence of such a big concentration of overseas students among boarders in some schools means that the schools themselves have become incredibly cosmopolitan places, a far cry from the old monoglot Anglo-Saxon institutions of old. In some schools two-thirds of the boarders are now from overseas, a mixture of young people from China, Vietnam and Germany – and they see themselves as citizens of the world rather than of any one country. Such schools are, indeed, a reinvention of the traditional British public school.