Enrolments at independent schools have not kept pace with rising pupil numbers in England
The number of pupils at schools affiliated to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has risen, says the ISC. Pupil numbers in 1,249 schools which completed the 2016 ISC census rose by 0.1%.
But the latest Department for Education data* says the number of school age pupils in England has risen by 1.3%. This suggests enrolment at ISC schools is not keeping pace with the rise in the school age population.
55% of ISC schools are selective, the ISC report says. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that exam results are higher than in the state sector where there are few selective schools. But the advantage doesn’t seem to last. Research has found that state-educated pupils outperform their equally qualified peers from independent schools at university.
The ISC cites the recent Durham University comparison of achievement between state and independent pupils. When this was published, the ISC said:
‘Attending an independent school in England is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16’.
But the report’s analysis was hedged by several warnings and the researchers' analysis of available literature found:
'...the jury is still out with regard to the true extent to which attendance at independent schools in England enhance the academic achievements of students when student and school-level differences are accounted for.’
In any case, the names of independent schools used in this state v private comparison were given to Durham by the ISC. If all ISC schools were included in the list (and we don’t know that), then Durham would have compared a group of schools where 55% select their pupils with a state system which, apart from a few schools, does not. This is not comparing like with like.
ISC schools are helping state schools, the report says. 160,000 state pupils benefit from such partnerships. There are over 7.5 million state-educated pupils in England but the ISC says benefiting just 160,000 shows independent schools have a public benefit which justifies charitable status.
A record number of bursaries have been offered to help ‘middle class’ parents pay fees, says the ISC. According to the Financial Times, bursaries sometimes have odd criteria. Eltham College, London, offers 50% reduction to the offspring of ‘chemists, travelling salesmen and grocers’, while children of pub landlords, those with an ‘aptitude for fencing’ or ones with ‘environmental awareness’ can claim discount at other fee-charging schools.
These are oddities, of course. But the fact remains that in 55% of ISC schools, any reduction in fees (if available) would only be offered to ‘poor’ children with high ability. Children of average or low ability, middle class or not, would be rejected.
*Figures for state schools were from the January 2015 census. The data for 2016 has not yet been published.
CORRECTION 3 May 2015 The article originally said the researchers had concluded the 'the jury was still out...'. This wasn't actually the conclusion based on the researchers' survey which compared an unknown list of ISC private schools with the entire state sector but their assessment of the available literature. This has been corrected. The researchers' own findings were hedged by limitations: (see page 42) including a 'significant' one relating to the '0.64 grade estimate of independent school advantage':
'...we are unable to give a confident and precise estimate of the causal effect of attending an independent school.... We therefore advise that this estimate be viewed with caution. Moreover, it seems likely that any unobserved differences between pupils in the two sectors might well reduce this estimate, were they to be included.'