Independent schools are “recovering strongly” from the pandemic, the latest census from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) suggests.
There are now a record 544,316 pupils at 1,388 ISC member schools, up from 532,237 in 2021 and surpassing the previous record high of 537,315 in 2020, the official report reveals.
The rise will be welcome in the association’s schools, which last year experienced a drop of 1.3 per cent in pupil numbers, the first fall for a decade.
After substantial falls last year, pupil numbers for boarding also seem to be growing again, the survey of 1,388 member schools suggests. There were 65,232 boarding pupils on census day in January 2022, although that was in the middle of the Omicron wave of Covid.
The number of pupils registered to board at any point during the academic year 2021/22, was higher at 69,937, representing an increase of 4,592 from last year. However, this still falls short of the 73,112 boarders in January 2020.
In terms of students whose parents live overseas, numbers from China have plunged since 2020, falling 16.8 per cent between 2021 and 2022, but overall overseas numbers are up 1.6 per cent on last year.
The number of Hong Kong pupils whose parents live in the UK has more than trebled from 496 in 2021 to 1,538 this year, believed to be due to the government policy permitting Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) to resettle in the UK.
The growing international presence of ISC schools is also in evidence in the latest figures, despite new rules around expansion in China and ongoing global Covid restrictions: ISC schools operate 93 overseas campuses, educating nearly 60,000 pupils. This represents growth from 81 campuses and nearly 53,000 pupils in 2021.
In terms of fees, the census finds that ISC schools had an annual average increase of 3 per cent. This represents the second lowest increase since 2000, it said.
In his foreward to the report, which was released earlier this month but given little publicity, ISC chair Barnaby Lenon says: “This set of data describes the situation in January 2022 when many aspects of schooling in the UK were still far from normal. The report therefore provides further insight into the continued impact of the pandemic on the independent sector as well as starting to describe the road to recovery.
“For me there are many interesting findings, such as the fact that pupil numbers grew to reach a record high, despite the impact of Covid on the ability of pupils to travel to the UK and, for some parents, loss of income.
“This census has also recorded that fee increases were kept quite low for the second year in a row. Reassuringly, we have once again seen a rise in fee assistance provision, with the amount for means-tested fee assistance rising to a total of £480 million.
“While partnership activity between independent and state schools has inevitably been affected by the pandemic, this report tells us that more and more schools have been able to resume their joint working as restrictions and absence rates have become less pronounced.”
He finished by “paying tribute to teachers and all school staff, heads and governors, pupils and their families for all they have achieved in particularly challenging circumstances.”