"There is no crisis or feeling of peril in private schools" - a response to the Times Magazine

Posted on: 16 Apr 2016

As the Times Magazine wills 'crisis' upon Britain's private schools, ISC figures tell a very different story.

This comment is in response to a Times Magazine Feature on Saturday 16 April 2016.

Headlines declaring ‘crisis’ within independent schools simply aren’t recognised by the sector.

Pupil numbers at Independent School Council schools (which teach 80% of all independent school children) are increasing year-on-year and are higher than any time since records began.

Small numbers of schools close and some merge but just as many open up or grow, and not just in London. The Times itself has recently covered difficulties being caused by the level of demand for places at independent schools.

Schools aren't immune from the pressures of business being felt at local, national and international levels - adaptation and change is a part of running a modern and forward-thinking institution. But to suggest that closures happen without much heartache is to do those having to take these decisions a disservice. Nor is the closure of small schools a new phenomenon. At ISC we track the birth and death of small numbers of schools year in year out. But overall numbers of pupils in independent schools continue to grow.

Fee increases in 2015 were more modest than at any time since 1994 - and the same will be true in 2016. Over the past twenty years fee increases have exceeded inflation but many things have - look at house prices. Affordability is a priority issue for schools and they work hard to remain competitive without sacrificing excellence. Bursaries are increasing and a third of all pupils are on some level of fee assistance, worth a total of £800m annually.

Just 5% of our pupils are non-British pupils from overseas, not the one-in-five as is misreported. This proportion has grown very little in 30 years. It is crazy to characterise the fact that our schools attract pupils from all over the world as a weakness.

Why do parents send their children to independent schools in ever-growing numbers? Based on grades achieved at A level, the DfE league tables of 2015 included 84 private schools in the top 100 places. In 2015 a third of independent school GCSE entries were awarded an A* compared to 7% nationally.

In just the last few weeks a report from Durham University showed that independent school pupils achieve close to an average of one grade higher in every GCSE than similar students in state schools.

More than nine of every ten of our pupils go to university, most to those in the top 15 of the rankings. Our pupils make up 40% of the Oxbridge entry.

Beyond the classroom our schools excel at sport, drama and music - a look at the Brits who win top national and international awards and trophies will tell you that.

Private schools are a path to social mobility. 40% of independent school pupils have parents who did not themselves go to an independent school, this is not, therefore, about the perpetuation of a small elite. 30% of pupils at independent schools are from a minority ethnic background – more than in the state sector. The great majority of ISC schools are engaged in partnerships with local state schools, helping them drive up standards in all areas.

So why are more state schools appearing in school guides? Mainly because these guides are making an editorial decision to finally recognise that some of these highly selective schools have always been good.

There is no crisis or feeling of peril in private schools. They are successful because they work hard, employ good staff and do the right things. They produce young men and women who are self-disciplined, self-reliant, ambitious, curious, culturally sophisticated and self-confident.

And what's next for our schools? For most it will be continuing on existing paths, striving for ever better academic results and an increasing breadth of opportunity for pupils and future pupils.

The independent schools sector is proud and rightly so. Our schools have a lot to shout about.