The changing face of public schools

In 1995, for which some new figures are now available, nearly 590,000 children were attending 2,422 independent schools in England, Scotland and Wales. In 1994 the private sector accounted for 7.2 per cent of the total school population, and 15 per cent of sixth-form pupils. Eighty per cent of them will have gained three or more A-level passes, and nine out of ten will have gone on to higher education.

Segregation and boarding, traditional characteristics of private education, are going out of fashion. The number of mixed independent schools had gone up from 1,367 in 1985 to 1,668 in 1995, mirroring a decline in single-sex establishments. Over the same period, the number of boarders fell by a third and schools taking them fell from 1,040 to 847.

Private nurseries have become increasingly popular, with parents of around 63,000 under-fives now paying for their pre-schooling. School fees vary considerably, and range from Pounds 2,000 a year for a day pupil at a prep school to six or seven times that figure for a boarder at one of the top public schools.

In 1994, nearly 130,000 pupils (28 per cent) received help with their fees, mainly in the form of school bursaries and scholarships, although 33,000 benefited from the assisted places scheme and 9,000 were supported by their local education authority.

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