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More parents choosing private schools

Demand for private school places is growing, despite continued fears that the country is entering a severe recession.

A survey of schools represented by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference reveals that applications for independent school places have risen since last year.

There were more than two applicants per place for 11-year-olds at HMC schools this September. The number of pupils who have registered in advance or taken entrance exams is up 1.7 percentage points since 2008.

Demand for places at 13 has risen by 7.5 per cent. And, at sixth-form, it has risen by 8.2 per cent.

Bernard Trafford, head of the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle and chairman of HMC, said the 1990s recession had a similar effect.

"If times are difficult, parents go for the surefire," he said. "We're seen as reliable, delivering what we promise."

He suggested that parents' disillusion with politicians was also a factor. Last week, a survey conducted by the National Association of Headteachers revealed that 85 per cent of parents want the current system of national tests abolished.

"Parents think the Government isn't in tune with what they want," Mr Trafford said. "Politicians don't listen, and go blindly their own way. So there's parental disillusionment with the state sector."

Half the heads of the 90 boarding and day schools surveyed by HMC claimed that open evening attendance for prospective parents was unchanged since last year. Almost four out of 10 heads said that attendance had noticeably risen.

Andrew Grant, head of St Albans School in Hertfordshire, has seen his 11-plus applications increase by 10 per cent this year.

"It's counterintuitive," he said. "But it may be that, in straightened times, there's an even greater focus on high-quality education.

"It's not getting easier to get into the best universities. And, if people can see the jobs market getting tighter, that's going to put a premium on having children who are able to compete."

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