Number of pupils at independent schools in North East falls

Fewer pupils in the region are attending fee-paying schools, new figures show.

There are 69,847 pupils at private schools in the North belonging to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), compared with 70,577 pupils in 2013.

Across the country, 7% of schoolchildren are at independent schools. The underlying trend over the last year has been growth, but pupil numbers declined in the region, falling by 1% in the North.

Almost half of the country’s independent schools are located in London and the South East. According to the census, independent schools in different parts of the country have faced different sets of challenges.

Among those schools that participated in the census in both 2013 and 2014 there was a rise in pupils of 1% in London and of 0.5% in the rest of the South East.

Hilary French, headmistress at Newcastle High School for Girls, says the fall in pupil numbers has to be linked to the region’s struggling economy.

“People are doing really well in the South East but we are not feeling those effects yet,” she said. “The Government is trying to save money in public services, which is detrimental, because these services form a really large part of our economy.

“We have to be aware that some parents are struggling – the North East is the only part of the country that hasn’t seen a rise in house prices. We have to hope that the London ripple effect is all to come for us.

“But with the severity of the recession and what’s been happening to the economy here, a 1% fall is quite encouraging. All independent schools are businesses and any business has to look at its situation in the economy – how it needs to attract and retain customers. There are lots of excellent independent schools in the North East. Both Royal Grammar School and ourselves have waiting lists for pupils. Those schools which can move with the times and provide what the market wants are doing very well.”

School fees climbed by 3.9% last year, the lowest rise for almost 20 years. The overall average annual fee, excluding nursery fees, is almost £15,000.

The census said 166,268 pupils nationally – 33.4% of the total – received help with their fees. ISC schools provided more than £660m of help with fees in the academic year 2013/14, an increase of 5.1% on last year.

Schools gave more than twice as much help in the form of bursaries as they did in scholarships. The survey said means-tested bursaries were worth an average of £7,894 per pupil a year and were held by approximately 8% of all ISC pupils.

Pupils from overseas helped to buttress numbers during the recession, and last year their numbers rose 1.4% to a total of 25,912. The two regions supplying the largest number of overseas pupils are Europe (38%) and Hong Kong and China (37.2%).

Ms French added: “We are finding that overseas pupils, particularly from China, want to come to us as a day school and stay with either relatives or host families.”

Source – Newcastle Journal 30 April 2014

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