Number of independent schools in UK

Number of pupils at independent schools surpasses pre-crash level

VariousEton is among the Independent Schools Council's members. Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Rex Features

More pupils are attending fee-paying schools now than at the start of the economic downturn in 2008, according to the latest census in independent schools.

The number of pupils at ISC schools reached 514, 000 in 2009 but dropped in subsequent years because of the downturn, dipping to 506, 500 in 2011.

In all, 7% of schoolchildren are at independent schools. The underlying trend over the last 25 years has been growth, and in 20 of the last 30 years there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of pupils at ISC schools.

"Some may choke on their coffee when they see that the number of pupils at ISC schools has gone up again, " said Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC. "How is it that the independent sector has confounded the prediction of doom and gloom? At the heart of it all are high standards that have put our schools way ahead of the competition."

However, the figures are also likely to reflect a demographic surge that has resulted in an increasing number of children starting school. There has been similar trend at this age range in state schools.

Janette Wallis, senior editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: "Preparatory school can work out cheaper than having a nanny, so independent schools may be particularly valued for that age group."

School fees climbed by 3.9% last year, the lowest rise for almost 20 years. The overall average annual fee, excluding nursery fees, is almost £15, 000.

The census said 166, 268 pupils – 33.4% of the total – received help with their fees. ISC schools provided more than £660m of help with fees in the academic year 2013/14, an increase of 5.1% on last year.

Schools gave more than twice as much help in the form of bursaries as they did in scholarships. The survey said means-tested bursaries were worth an average of £7, 894 per pupil a year and were held by approximately 8% of all ISC pupils.

Pupils from overseas helped to buttress numbers during the recession, and last year their numbers rose 1.4% to a total of 25, 912. The two regions supplying the largest number of overseas pupils are Europe (38%) and Hong Kong and China (37.2%).

This year the ISC broke down the number of overseas pupils into those with parents living overseas and those with parents in the UK, so it is harder to make direct comparisons between 2013 and 2014 on the numbers of overseas pupils overall.

There are about 2, 000 independent schools in the UK and the ISC represents 1, 257 of them, including the leading ones such as Eton, Harrow and Malborough. Most of the remaining independent schools tend to be small and are often faith schools.

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