Teachers are leaving the state sector for jobs in independent schools in increasing numbers, attracted not so much by higher pay as by better conditions and less paperwork.
In the past three years there has been a sharp rise in the number of teachers moving from state schools into the best-funded group of independents, members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC).
Figures from the Independent Schools Information Service show that in the year up to January 1997 there were 1,345 appointments in HMC schools, of whom 257 teachers (19.1 per cent) came from maintained schools. In the year up to January 2000, there were 1,527 appointments, of which 366 (23.96 per cent) came from maintained schools.
There has been negligible change in movement the other way. Departures from the independent to state sector accounted for 0.6 per cent of all departures in the January 1997 figures and for 0.8 per cent in the January 2000 figures.
State schools are widely perceived as being tougher places to teach and teaching qualifications are compulsory, unlike in the independent sector. But what are the refugees from the state system hoping to find in the private sector?
Although the most successful independents often pay more, salaries overall are very variable outside the state system. "It's not really to do with pay, which isn't necessarily going to be better if you leave the maintained sector," says Dick Davison of ISIS. "It's more to do with intangible things such as esteem, feeling that in the independent sector teachers are regarded as professionals and allowed to get on and teach with less distraction from paperwork, form-filling and national testing.
"There is a wide variety f independent schools. It's true that many have buildings and facilities most state schools can only dream of, but it's also true that some are in less than ideal buildings, not designed as schools, and are far from well-off.
"The one feature they have in common is that the majority of children come from families where a premium has been put on education. It means the family is likely to take education seriously and give a lot of support to the school."
Olive Forsyth of the National Union of Teachers says there are plenty of such families in the state sector, but adds: "The stresses and strains on teachers are less in the independent sector. The workload is less; they have longer holidays; they have, in the prep schools at least, much smaller classes; they have much less government bureaucracy to deal with."
Geraldine Everett, vice-chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers, has taught in the state sector and now teaches at an independent school in Leicestershire. She says: "We are better able to teach in the independent sector. That's what we entered the profession for, not for childminding, crowd control and paperwork.
"There is less of a bureaucratic burden in the independent sector and considerably more flexibility. In the state sector there is much more rigid planning. The demands of the national curriculum, tests, literacy and numeracy hours, leave little time for the rest of education, for the creative side."
A teacher who left her French post in a state secondary school two years ago for a "slightly better paid" job in a selective girls' independent school says: "It wasn't a move I expected ever to make, but I've had verbal abuse and been worried about being physically abused. I wouldn't be expected to put up with work conditions like that in any other job. The class size is about the same but the stress is a fraction of what I had before."