Notes from the Chairman
By Barnaby Lenon, Chairman, Independent Schools Council
I was delighted to read recently, in a major newspaper interview, that David Cameron had said that “The Berlin Wall between private and public education is coming down and that is good."
This is exactly the message we at ISC have been working hard to promote. For too long, independent schools have been defined by outdated stereotypes and ill informed preconceptions.
The press still print pictures of top hats whenever they write about our schools. Organisations and quangos still divide the education sector into state and independent, even though the state sector is itself increasingly diverse, with academies, free schools, studio schools, sixth forms and grammar schools, as to render this sort of divide quite irrelevant.
What many do not seem to realise is just how diverse and varied independent schools really are. So I would like to take this opportunity to break down a few myths about independent schools:
Myth 1: All Independent schools cost £30,000 a year
Fact: ISC schools include a very diverse mix of schools. There are the leading Independent schools like Eton, Harrow, Westminster, but there are many more schools that are small but very well known in their local communities.
Over 55% of ISC schools have 350 pupils or less and are likely to be a local prep school, much loved in its area. Average day fees at our schools are £4,241 per term.
Myth 2: Independent schools are full of rich children
Fact: Many hard working families struggle to pay fees for their children to come to our schools and they make huge sacrifices to do it. Our schools recognise this and do everything they can to offer help with fees, so children who will benefit can come to our schools whatever their background.
Last year nearly one third of children at ISC schools had help with their fees and our schools gave fee assistance worth £660 million.
Over 41,000 children receive bursaries at ISC schools and 5,391 pupils pay no fees at all.
Myth 3: the Independent school sector is only kept afloat by international students.
Fact: There are 24,391 non British pupils at ISC schools with parents living overseas. That’s about 4.8% of the total school pupil numbers.
We welcome international students to our schools as they bring a global perspective and enrich the school community but they are not the majority of our pupil community by a long chalk.
Myth 4: All independent schools are boarding schools.
Fact: Over 87% of ISC pupils are day school pupils. There are 485 schools that offer some boarding but there are just 11 ISC schools that are 100% boarding.
Myth 5: All independent schools are highly selective
Fact: While some of our schools are selective, many are not. We have a very varied range of schools in our membership, including smaller senior schools, many prep schools and schools that specialise in pupils with special educational needs. Many of these pupils are paid for by their local authority. We also have other specialist schools – in Music and Dance for example. The Royal Ballet School is one of our schools and approximately 80% of these pupils are on some kind of fee assistance.
Myth 6: Independent schools have few ethnic minority pupils
Fact: in England, there are a higher proportion of minority ethnic pupils at ISC schools (28.7%) than there are at state maintained schools (26.6%)
Myth 7: Independent schools don’t contribute to the country
Fact: Independent schools contribute £9.5 billion to the economy; they generate £3.6 billion in tax and save the taxpayer £3.0 billion in tax, equivalent to building 460 new free schools. Over 90% of our schools work in meaningful partnership with state schools and their local communities.
This article first appeared in Private School Magazine, Summer 2015.