Boom in private sector

Fee-paying nursery and primary places up as state numbers drop by 300,000

MORE PARENTS are sending their children to private schools and the trend is set to continue over the coming decade, new figures reveal.

As pupil numbers have fallen in state nursery and primary schools, the independent sector has boomed for the past 10 years, according to analysis by the Independent Schools Council.

Demand for private school education is likely to increase competition for places at the most popular schools, the council predicts.

While local authority-maintained nurseries have suffered a drop of almost 14,000 pupils since 1997 to 36,990, private school nurseries have enjoyed an increase of more than 5,000 to nearly 41,000.

The pattern is repeated in primary schools, where pupil numbers in state schools have fallen by almost 300,000 to 4.1 million, while prep school numbers have gone up by more than 14,000 to 159,000.

Increases for the private sector are likely to be even higher, as the figures relate to schools affiliated to the council, which represents only 80 per cent. However, the overall proportion of pupils educated at private schools remains unchanged at around 7 per cent.

The findings, to be presented at the council's annual conference next week, also reveal an increasing North-South divide, with greater economic prosperity driving up demand around London.

In the past 10 years, day pupils at private schools in the North has fallen by more than 1,200 to almost 74,000. In the capital, that number has risen by more than 11,000 to nearly 77,700.

George Marsh, head of Dulwich college preparatory in south London, said they had increased numbers by 80 places in 10 years. "We are now full at all levels in the school," he said.

The council predicts that pupil numbers from the Asian community will grow by almost a quarter over the next 10 years.

It also believes that people who live on "dinky developments" in starter homes will choose private education.

Falling rolls in the state sector are largely caused by a falling birth rate between 1994 and 2001.

The Independent Schools Council will launch a website this summer to help schools identify their strengths and weaknesses by ranking them alongside similar institutions. They will be able to compare fees, pupil numbers, results and financial performance. However, the information will only be available to headteachers and senior management.

Peter Wilby, page 29

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