ISC Census 2019: European pupil numbers rise despite Brexit

Posted on: 26 Apr 2019

Friday 26 April, sees the publication of the 2019 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census - the authoritative source of data providing a picture of where independent schools sit within the UK's education landscape.

UK independent schools have recorded an increase in the number of pupils from European Economic Area (EEA) countries in the current academic year despite ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

The finding is just one of many insights revealed by this year’s Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) annual Census.

This year’s report also highlights a rise in the number of partnership projects between state and independent schools, the provision of means-tested fee assistance increasing to a value of more than £420million, and pupil numbers reaching a record high.

Summary information from this year’s ISC Census includes:

  • There are now a record 536,109 pupils at 1,364 ISC member schools, up from 529,164 in 2018.
  • There are 28,910 overseas pupils, equating to 5.4% of all pupils. Among the 26,370 non-British pupils whose parents live in the UK, 45% come from EEA countries, up three percentage points from last year. A further 13% come from the USA. As revealed by Oxford Economics in an impact report last year, non-British pupils at ISC schools supported around £1.8billion of gross value added in the UK, supporting 39,310 jobs and generating £550million in annual tax revenues.
  • Just over 84,000 pupils identified as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), equating to 15.7% of all pupils.
  • The majority of schools have fewer than 300 pupils. The mean school size is just under 400 while the mode is just under 170. Only 83 schools have more than 1,000 pupils.
  • Schools give more than twice as much means-tested fee assistance as opposed to non-means-tested, totalling over £420million and representing an increase of 6% compared with last year.
  • ISC schools are expanding their public benefit activities - 11,466 partnerships were recorded this year, compared with 10,553 last year. Beyond partnerships with state schools, between £10million and £15million was raised for charities at ISC schools this year and 901 ISC schools organise volunteering opportunities for their staff and/or pupils.
  • Despite fewer than 50% of ISC schools being academically selective, pupils significantly outperform the national and global averages academically. Nearly four times as many ISC pupils proportionately gained 40 points in the International Baccalaureate compared with the worldwide average.
  • The boarding landscape is changing, reflecting parental preferences. Although full boarding remains the most popular boarding pattern, the proportion of weekly and flexi boarders has increased for three consecutive years. In 2016, 15.7% of boarders were weekly or flexi boarders. This year that stands at 17.9%.

ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, said: “While most independent schools are small schools serving their local community, some attract pupils of many different nationalities and these young people have a positive influence on our ability to understand other cultures as well as the country’s economy and our intellectual base.

“It is perhaps surprising to see an increase in the number of EEA pupils at ISC schools given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but clearly much value is placed on the broad all-round education independent schools offer, their inclusive environments, and commitment to supporting the development of globally conscious young people.

“Looking elsewhere in this year’s Census, it is hugely encouraging to see an increase once again in means-tested bursary provision for lower income families, which helps widen access to independent schools. Over the past year, we have seen schools embark upon ambitious fundraising campaigns to support this important work and join programmes to offer free boarding school places to looked-after children and young people on the edge of care.”

Approximately 15% of pupils at University College School, Hampstead, speak a European language, other than English, at home. Mark Beard, the school’s headmaster, said: “This reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the city we live in and whilst it naturally enriches the cultural life of our school, it further supports our core mission to foster in our pupils a tolerance of and a respect for the individual.

"I believe that every school across the UK seeks to develop pupils who are community minded. Pupils of all ages are taught about cultures and languages that are different to their own and this helps the young people of today to be globally conscious.

“Like numerous independent schools, through ambitious fundraising we are now able to spend more than we ever have (over £1million per annum) on providing free places for pupils on means-tested bursaries. This further maintains a range of families within our community and allows more pupils than ever before to access our distinctive education.”

Julie Robinson, ISC chief executive, said: “Independent schools provide capacity, variety and flexibility in our education system. The existence of a private sector eases pressure on class sizes in state schools, and saves the taxpayer £3.5billion each year.

“This year’s Census tells us there are now a little over 84,000 pupils identified as having SEND, which highlights the importance of having schools that can offer the kind of specialist support that might not otherwise be available or accessible.

“The sector, though small, is playing its part in helping improve educational outcomes for all children. Joint working between state and independent schools is developing, with projects becoming ever more effective and impactful. More than 11,000 partnership projects were recorded this year, all of which create new learning and development opportunities for those involved.”

Benenden School, in Kent, has worked in partnership with The John Wallis Church of England Academy for many years. The academy’s principal, John McParland, said: “Our strong and successful partnership with Benenden School has grown from strength to strength over the last nine years.

“There are many mutual benefits which come from the strong leadership in both schools, such as Benenden sixth form students mentoring our Year 11 GCSE students, subject leaders meeting to share expertise and resources and the heads of both schools being on each other’s governing bodies working together to monitor and improve teaching and learning in both schools.

“I would strongly encourage other state and independent schools to get involved in partnership, where possible, in the interests of the wellbeing and education of their students as there will be many gains and benefits for the students, schools and for society.”

The Census, which has been conducted annually for the past 45 years, is completed by all schools in ISC membership. It is an important resource for the independent education sector, as well as for policymakers and opinion formers.

Contact: Ian Mason, 0207 766 7062,

Georgina Belcher, 0207 766 7076,