ISC Census 2004: Independent schools break growth record but cost rises slow pace

Posted on: 28 Apr 2004

Britain's independent schools have set a new record for sustained growth in pupil numbers. The 2004 Independent Schools Council (ISC) annual census shows numbers up for an unprecedented ninth consecutive year.

Read the ISC Annual Census 2004

But the pace of growth has been significantly slowed this year, largely thanks to a larger-than-usual rise in fees in 2003, itself the result of a series of Government-imposed cost increases.

This year's ISC census discloses that numbers in member schools have been rising uninterruptedly since 1995-96. The previous longest period of growth was eight years between 1983-84 and 1990-91.

The census, published today (28 April), shows a net rise of 416 pupils - 0.1 per cent - when compared with last year. On census day, in January, there were 508,027 pupils in those schools. They represent more than 80 per cent of all children in the independent sector.

Day numbers continued the growth of recent years and are up by 0.3 per cent. Day pupils represent 86 per cent of the total in ISC schools. The total number of boarders, however, is slightly down, after two years of recovery from a long decline.

ISCis national director David Woodhead commented:

"While the overall growth in numbers is smaller than in recent years, it must be seen in the context of substantially higher fees attributable to an unusual combination of cost pressures on schools."

Amongst the factors contributing to a 9.6 per cent average rise in fees in 2003 were a huge increase in the schools' contribution to teachers' pensions and a one per cent rise in employers' National Insurance contributions - both imposed by the Government. It is estimated that these two changes alone added about £100 million to schools' costs. Other increased costs schools had to face included rises in charges for Criminal Records Bureau checks on staff and, for boarding schools, new charges for welfare inspections.

Schools' capital investment in new and improved buildings and equipment reached record levels. Last year, schools spent £523 million, an average of £1,034 per pupil, compared with £984 in 2002.

Despite the slight setback in numbers, boarding schools continued to invest heavily in their future, with spending on new boarding accommodation and facilities rising by more than 30 per cent, from £69 million to £90.5 million.

Although fees rose by more than recent years, the proportion of pupils receiving financial assistance from their schools continued to rise, reaching the record level of 116,120, representing 23 per cent of all pupils. The total number of pupils receiving assistance actually fell very slightly, as another 4,000 Assisted Place pupils left school. The number of nursery aged pupils receiving government financial assistance through nursery vouchers continued to rise slightly - by 0.4 per cent to 25,664.

David Woodhead added:

"Nine years of continuous growth represents a huge achievement for independent schools. There is no evidence that parental demand for the excellence they represent is diminishing in any way and their only limit is capacity."

Pupils from overseas ##

Although figures for recruitment of foreign national pupils were at a standstill overall, numbers from mainland China continued to grow strongly: new admissions from the People's Republic rose by 13.1 per cent to 1,102. Numbers of new recruits from Hong Kong declined very slightly, but the former British colony remains the most important single source of pupils in the Far East.

Figures for Continental Europe (contributing 28 per cent of foreign pupils) show that Germany is still the largest single source of European recruits. Just over 1,000 Germans, mostly 16-19 year-olds, came to ISC schools last year, more than 12 per cent of all overseas recruits, and up 11 per cent on the previous year.

The total number of pupils from overseas recruited last year actually rose slightly - by 3.3 per cent - largely thanks to an increased number of British expatriate children arriving in ISC schools.

Schools estimate that overseas pupils - more than 18,000 in total - currently bring in at least £314 million per year in currency earnings.

Read the ISC Annual Census 2004