Independent schools weather the economic storm and return to pre-recession strength - ISC Census 2016

Posted on: 28 Apr 2016

The number of independent schools in the UK has returned to its pre-2008 recession level, 2016 Census figures reveal.

The 2016 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census shows there are now 1,280 ISC independent schools compared to 1,271 in 2008.

The 2016 figure also represents the highest total this century. On top of that, there are now 518,432 pupils, the most since records began in 1974.


Other Census figures show:

  • Fee increases remain at 3.5%, the lowest since 1994
  • A third of pupils receive fee assistance worth in total more than £850m
  • 1,112 schools partner with state schools
  • The number of single-sex boys' and girls' schools is virtually unchanged
  • More than a third of schools have boarders
  • The proportion of international students remains at 5.3%
  • There are 57,000 full-time (equivalent) teachers, 39% of whom are men
  • Pupil-teacher ratio is under 9:1
  • 92% of pupils go on to higher education, including 56% to Russell Group universities
  • 30% of pupils are from a minority ethnic background
  • Roughly 7% of UK children go to independent school at any one time

Completed by all schools in ISC membership for 42 years, the ISC Census provides a picture of where independent schools sit within the UK's education landscape and is regarded by government, policymakers and opinion formers as the authoritative source of such data.

Julie Robinson, General Secretary of ISC, said: "Having felt the pressures of worldwide recession in 2008, independent schools have adapted where necessary and are thriving just eight years on. It's both heartening and reassuring to see the numbers of schools at such healthy levels, providing choice and excellence to pupils and their parents.

"Beyond these headline figures, the numbers recorded in this year's census are very stable and contradict claims by some that private education is in some sort of peril. In many areas the stability of these figures shows just how remarkable our schools really are."

Andrew Hampton, Headteacher of Thorpe Hall School in Southend, Essex, said: "Locally it is clear that the storm of the worst recession in living memory has passed and the climate for parents to invest in high quality education for their children has returned. Like many schools across the country we have continued to invest in our teachers and facilities by using our reserves and this strategy has proved successful in attracting students and keeping fees competitive. We are poised once more to grow over the next decade in terms of the quality of our educational offer, and that is very pleasing."

Jaideep Barot, Deputy Head (Academic) of Marlborough College in Wiltshire, added: "We regularly read predictions of doom and gloom for the independent sector - the reality is anything but. At Marlborough College demand continues to far outstrip supply. The truly holistic education which we provide is hugely prized. The academic is central, of course, and well qualified teachers with deep, specialist subject knowledge add value to our pupils’ achievements at all levels. Beyond this, the level of care and individual focus we provide, nurturing talent and interest in all areas, is what really sets our schools apart."


For the first time the Census also looks at independent exam results and 'value added':

  • Half of all A levels graded A*/A (compared to a quarter nationally)
  • Two thirds of GCSEs graded A*/A (compared to one fifth nationally)
  • Entries (and grades) for STEM and MFL subjects disproportionately high
  • Independent schooling can result in average GCSE grades being 0.64 higher each*
  • Independent education equivalent to two extra years' schooling by 16*

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of ISC, said: "Exam results in ISC schools have always been very high and remain so. The achievements of our pupils absolutely show the benefits of independence from curriculum constraints and outstanding classroom teaching. Independent schools have always believed that their broad all-round education, commitment to academic excellence and first-class university guidance provide tremendous benefits. Fee-paying parents have the right to expect value for money and it is important that we can demonstrate this."

*Research by Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University, 2016