ISC Census 2012: Pupil numbers rise at independent schools

Posted on: 26 Apr 2012

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) has today published its Annual Census for 2012. For the first time since 2008, pupil numbers have risen and are up by 0.1% compared to equivalent numbers for 2011.

There are now 508,472 pupils at 1,223 ISC schools. This year’s encouraging growth shows the resilience of independent schools in a challenging economic environment and highlights their continued attraction for parents.

Read the ISC Annual Census 2012

Further highlights of this year’s Census findings include:

Regional trends

Pupil numbers have risen by 1.2% in the South East and London (which have 45% ISC schools and 43% pupils), while they fell by 0.7% in other parts of the UK. This reflects the varying regional economies identified by PwC’s 2011 regional index of household financial stress which showed relative buoyancy in the South, East, London and Scotland, compared to relative stress in Wales and the North.


School fees have risen by an average of 4.5%, the second lowest fee increase since 1994 and below the education component of the CPI rate of inflation which was 5.1% for the 12 months to January 2012. Meanwhile, schools continue to work hard to provide fee assistance, as shown by the value of means-tested bursaries which rose by 9.4%, an increase of £24m on last year’s figures. Such aid gives the opportunity for many children from less wealthy families to attend ISC schools.

Internationalisation of UK independent schools

The Census points to the increasing globalisation of ISC schools, both in their pupil population and in the university destinations to which pupils go. The proportion of non-British pupils at ISC schools in 2012 was up 5.8% on 2011, while 27% of schools have reported an increase in the number of pupils going to university overseas. These figures all highlight the attraction of an education at an ISC school to a global market and reflect PISA’s findings from the OECD which rank UK independent schools as among the best in the world.

Association representatives said of the Census findings today:

ISC Chairman, Barnaby Lenon:

“Independent schools throughout the country should be very proud of the results of this Census. At a time of recession, when very many parents are struggling financially, it is clear that finding fees for their children’s education remains a priority for very large numbers.”

AGBIS Chairman, Sam Alder:

“The Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS) represents some 750 very diverse schools, and welcomes the increase in the number of pupils in 2011. It clearly reflects the high esteem in which British independent schools are held. Through promoting good governance AGBIS aims to play its part in continuing to strengthen our schools.”

BSA Chairman, Richard Harman:

“I’m delighted that ISC boarding numbers at 68,476 over last year’s 68,076 have held up so well. Numbers in State boarding schools have risen and Sixth Form boarding continues to be particularly strong. This census also provides further evidence that UK boarding schools are highly regarded around the world. Our overseas pupils make a major contribution to the economy as a whole.”

GSA President, Louise Robinson:

“Clearly there is a sizeable appetite for single sex education. GSA schools educate over 36% of all girls at ISC accredited schools, while, from years 7-11, 40-43% of ISC schools consist of all boys or all girls. Even at sixth form, almost 40% of ISC schools are single sex.”

HMC Chairman, Kenneth Durham:

“Even in deep recession, parents recognise excellence in education. Despite increasing financial pressure, families are determined to find the best and broadest opportunities for their children in the independent sector. The range of those families is growing too. The social and ethnic diversity of students in HMC schools gets broader every year, thanks in particular to increased fee assistance. We are more than simply resilient, we are facing the future.”

IAPS Chairman, Timothy Johns:

“The key reason why IAPS schools continue to thrive is that parents understand the critical importance of giving children the best start in life and the positive impact a quality prep school education has on pupils’ future academic success, social development and wellbeing.”

ISA Chairman, John Wood:

“The positive news from this year’s census confirms that independent education remains an aspiration for a large proportion of parents across the country. It will be interesting to see if the substantial increase in the number of pupils applying to overseas universities is a trend that continues in future.”

ISBA Chairman, Alison Martin:

“The figures reflect successful attempts by schools to control expenditure and keep fee rises to a minimum against a backdrop of rising costs. This has been achieved by closely monitoring the need for spending, staff/pupil ratios and capital expenditure, with many school deferring new builds in favour of refurbishing existing premises.”

The Society of Heads Chairman, Andy Waters:

"The Society of Heads welcomes the news that pupil numbers in ISC schools have risen in the past year. This increase demonstrates the value parents place on an independent education; for academic excellence, pastoral care, curriculum breadth and extra-curricular opportunity. Our schools serve an increasingly international population, and these figures show that children from all over the world also hold British independent education in high esteem. Fee rises which average less than inflation will help to broaden access, and we would welcome additional initiatives to further this aim."


Notes to editors

Additional information ISC represents the eight leading independent schools associations in the UK, collectively educating more than 500,000 children in 1,223 schools in the UK and select British schools overseas.

Read the ISC Annual Census 2012