ISC Census 2015: Highest number of pupils at independent schools since records began

Posted on: 30 Apr 2015
Posted by: Tracy Cook

There are now 517,113 pupils at ISC schools, more than at any other time. Pupil numbers are now higher than they were before the recession started. They are up from 511,928 in 2014.

  • Highest number of pupils at independent schools since records began
  • Biggest increase in pupil numbers at ISC schools since the start of the economic crisis
  • 14% of all school pupils aged 16 and over attend an ISC school, with children moving to independent schools at all stages throughout their education
  • Pupil numbers in Wales and the North, hardest hit by the recession, increase
  • More pupils than ever before, one third of all pupils, receive help with their fees, to a record value of over £800million

Read the ISC Annual Census 2015

Pupil numbers at Independent Schools Council (ISC) schools are at their highest levels since records began in 1974.

There are now 517,113 pupils at ISC schools, more than at any other time. Pupil numbers are now higher than they were before the recession started. They are up from 511,928 in 2014.

This increase has been fuelled by both British and international pupils coming to our schools. There are 27,211 international pupils with parents living overseas which is 5.3% of total pupil numbers, little changed from 1982, when the proportion of international pupils was 4.4%.

There are more ISC schools than last year, with a total number of 1,267 schools up from 1,257 schools last year.

The figures are revealed by the ISC Annual Census 2015, a Census taken of all ISC schools throughout the UK each year.

14% of all school children aged 16 and over now attend an ISC school, with pupils moving to independent schools throughout their education. Pupils are moving between the state and independent sectors at all ages, but this is most significant in the sixth form, where there are now 89,617 pupils. 7% of school children overall are educated at independent schools.

Julie Robinson, new General Secretary, Independent Schools Council, said:

“It is no surprise that parents are choosing ISC schools for the crucial sixth form years. ISC pupils have an outstanding track record at A-level, with 51% of entries achieving A* and A grades, compared to 26% nationally.

“That means 92% of our pupils move onto higher education, with the majority going to Russell Group universities.”

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman, Independent Schools Council, commented:

“It is remarkable that, although we are only at the start of an economic recovery, the number of pupils at UK independent schools is at the highest level since records began in 1974. It shows that parents continue to value an independent education.

“ISC schools offer consistent high standards, reflected in a tremendous record of academic achievement, stimulating opportunities for pupils outside the classroom and a professional approach to pastoral care. It is no surprise that British independent schools are seen as amongst the best in the world.”


Schools in different parts of the country have faced different challenges during the recession. Pupil numbers have increased significantly in Wales, with a 4.7% increase in pupil numbers to 7,756 pupils. Wales has been hard hit by the economic recession and this is the first increase in pupil numbers since 2008.

Paul Norton, Principal of King’s Monkton School in the heart of Cardiff, said:

“Our entry for Year 7 this year has doubled. It is unheard of for us. We had 33 applications for 15 scholarship places. Parents are drawn to our small class sizes, the inclusive community and the flexible curriculum that can meet their children’s needs. We have also invested in new IT facilities and are offering a computer science programme run in conjunction with Cardiff University, that is proving very popular with parents.

“Over 90% of parents that visit the school then want a place for their child. Parents tell us they are being helped by grandparents and cutting holidays to get the best for their children.”

Dr Adam England, Director of the Welsh Independent Schools Council, said:

“There are new employers coming to Wales, such as Sony, Pinewood and Ford, bringing new employees and they are boosting the local economy. We are seeing more pupils coming to independent schools and more demand for places at our schools here.”

For the first time since the recession, pupil numbers have also risen in the North. Numbers of pupils at schools in the North now stand at over 69,000.

Hilary French, Head of Newcastle High School for Girls, commented:

“There is a growing mood of optimism, a sense that local industry and businesses are thriving. We are definitely seeing that translate into an increased demand for places, with a lot more interest in our school, particularly at junior level and in the sixth form, where we have a strong track record locally.”

“We are now building a new senior school building, following our merger last year with a school that was just 350 metres away.”

There are also sizeable increases in the West Midlands (1.7% growth) and East Anglia (0.7% growth.) There are 36,484 pupils in independent schools in the West Midlands and 61,331 in East Anglia.

Increased bursary provision

An unprecedented number of pupils, 170,000, now receive help with their fees to a record value of £836 million, up £60 million from last year.

This reflects the long term aim of our schools to increase the amount of bursary provision and widen access to our schools. Over the last 15 years there has been a consistent trend of schools providing fee assistance to increasing number of pupils.

Over 40,000 pupils receive means tested bursaries, valued at £350 million, an increase of 6% compared to last year. The average bursary is worth £8,277 per pupil per year. There are 5,406 pupils who pay no fees at all.

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman, Independent Schools Council, commented:

“It is vital we continue widening access to our schools for pupils of all backgrounds through our bursary programmes. The data this year shows that this is happening.”

By contrast, school fees have shown the lowest annual increase, at 3.6%, since 1994. The average day fee is now £4,174 per term. Fees reflect the increases all schools have faced for management and administration, teachers’ salaries and pensions, as well as rising maintenance costs.

About ISC schools

ISC schools are very diverse, from the large well known boarding schools to small day schools, best known in their local communities. ISC schools include single sex, (with 134,742 pupils) co-educational, (with 382,389 pupils), day and boarding schools, senior schools and prep or junior schools, with 55% of schools having less than 350 pupils. 86% of all pupils are day school pupils.

ISC schools are increasingly diverse, with 29% of pupils from a minority ethnic background, mirroring Britain as a whole. The proportion of ethnic minority pupils has increased over time from 23% in 2009. There are also specialist schools for children with special educational needs and schools providing specialist education in Music and Dance, such as The Royal Ballet School.


Press enquiries

For more information please contact: Tracy Cook, Head of Press, ISC, on 0207 766 7062 or For urgent enquiries out of hours please call the press mobile on 07825 806017.

Notes to editors

Independent Schools Council The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings together seven associations of independent schools, their heads, bursars and governors. These collectively represent over 1,250 independent schools in the UK and overseas, educating more than half a million children each year.

ISC Annual Census 2015 The 2015 Census includes data on all 1,267 schools in UK membership of the constituent associations of ISC. These schools comprise 1,189 schools in England; 33 in Scotland; 18 in Wales; 10 in Northern Ireland; 5 in the Channel Islands; and 2 in the Isle of Man.

Read the ISC Annual Census 2015