Independent schools attract more 'first-timers'

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The Independent Online
MORE than half the parents who send their children to independent schools are first- time buyers, according to a report published yesterday.

A MORI poll carried out for the Independent Schools Information Service (ISIS) shows that the number of parents who choose independent schools for their children after attending state schools themselves has grown from 41 per cent to 54 per cent. Only a quarter of children in these schools now come from families where both parents had an independent education.

However, the proportion of families in lower income bands who send their children to independent schools has fallen despite the assisted places scheme, which aims to help those with an annual income of less than pounds 35,000. The proportion earning less than pounds 20,000 has fallen from 20 per cent to 14 per cent, and the number earning more than pounds 40,000 has risen from 36 per cent to 54 per cent.

More than 900 parents with children at 72 independent schools responded to last autumn's survey, which updated one carried out in 1989. More of those questioned came from the higher administrative, professional and managerial groups, and fewer from junior white-collar and manual jobs.

The recession, along with fee rises totalling 44 per cent, is believed to have squeezed out some parents who chose independent schools in the prosperous late 1980s.

Despite this, the number of parents who say they chose to go independent because they were dissatisfied with standards in state schools had risen since 1989, from one in five to one in four. The period since the last survey coincided almost exactly with the period since the national curriculum, testing and other reforms began to be implemented. The independent sector now accounts for 8 per cent of the school age population compared with 5.8 per cent in 1989.

One parent told MORI that he had chosen to go independent 'because the school offers very good, all-round education which, sadly, is lacking in state schools in our area'.

Parents now spend more time making their choice, looking at more prospectuses and visiting more schools, including state schools.

A school's examination results are an important factor in attracting pupils, the survey shows, but government league tables do not seem to have influenced parents' choice. Only 15 per cent of parents said league tables were important, compared with discipline (84 per cent) and a school's reputation (79 per cent).

The trend away from boarding continues, with 86 per cent of the pupils attending day schools compared with 83 per cent in 1989.

David Woodhead, director of ISIS, said the survey showed a vote of confidence in independent schools. 'Clearly the independent sector isn't some kind of hermetically sealed system or a no-go area for all but an exclusive and self-perpetuating class.'

(Graph omitted)