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News archive - May/June 2019

ANALYSIS: Public schools continue to thrive despite cost rises and Brexit uncertainties

UK independent schools now educate a record 536,109 pupils at 1,364 Independent Schools Council member schools, up from 529,164 in 2018.

This year’s annual report from the Independent Schools Council also highlights an increase in the number of pupils from European Economic Area (EEA) countries in the current academic year despite ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

Key highlights include the following:

  • 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.
  • The government spends about £4,700 per state school primary pupil and £6,200 per secondary pupil each year. The ISC accounts for 1,364 of the 2,500 independent schools in Britain, and its members teach more than 80 per cent of the 615,000 privately
  • The 1,300 schools who responded to the census in 2018 and 2017 reported a 6 per cent increase in Chinese pupils to 7,702, representing 27 per cent of foreign pupils whose parents live overseas.
  • The number of Russian children fell by 10 per cent to 1,527. Some of the biggest proportional increases were among pupils from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, although the numbers were in the hundreds.
  • 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.
  • 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.”

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.”

ISC cites as an example of partnership Benenden School, in Kent, which 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.”

In a report at the end of last year entitled “The Impact of Independent Schools on the UK Economy”, a team of analysts at Oxford Economics established that, in 2017 alone, independent schools (including those not within Independent Schools Council membership) contributed £13.7 billion to the economy, generating £4.1 billion of annual tax revenues and supporting 303,000 jobs, which is more than the total number of jobs across Liverpool.

In addition, the report found that independent schools save the taxpayer £3.5 billion every year by providing places for pupils who could otherwise be expected to take up a place in the state-funded sector. This is enough to build more than 20,000 affordable homes.

The ISC says that the total tax impact of ISC schools on its own last year would have been sufficient to fund the annual employment of 108,000 nurses on average full-time pay.

Other key findings from the Oxford Economics report include:

  • In 2017, schools that are members of the ISC’s constituent associations saved the taxpayer £3 billion as a result of pupils not taking up a place at a state maintained school, which is equivalent to 3.5% of total state spending on education in England, Scotland and Wales in that year.
  • Had all independent fee-charging schools ceased to exist in the late 1940s, then UK GDP would have been £73 billion lower in 2017—a shortfall of 3.6%.
  • The 1,300-plus schools represented by the ISC’s associations contributed £11.6 billion to the UK economy in 2017, generating £3.5 billion of annual tax revenues (equivalent to £129 per UK household) and supporting 257,000 jobs.
  • Of the £11.6 billion ISC schools contributed to the economy, non-British pupils at ISC schools supported around £1.8 billion of gross value added in the UK, supporting 39,310 jobs and generating £550 million in annual tax revenues.