Just 6 per cent of school-age children in England attended independent schools last year, unchanged since 1996 and down from 6.8 per cent in 1991, the Department for Education and Employment said.
In the sixth-form, the proportion of students being privately educated has fallen for five years running. It now stands at 19 per cent, compared to 21.5 per cent in 1995.
The figures were in a parliamentary written answer given by schools minister Estelle Morris in response to a question by Graham Brady, the Tory MP for Altrincham and Sale West. ISIS, the Independent Schools Information Service, contered the figures, saying that though the proportion was down, numbers were up.
It blamed the recession during the early nineties for a fall in enrolments that was now having an impact on sixth forms.
David Woodhead, a spokesman for ISIS, said the UK's private school population had recorded five straight years of rising numbers. It stood at 601,000 in 1999, compared with 559,000 in 1985.
"The DFEE's own projections are that maintained school rolls will begin to fall in a few years but that independent schools will increase," he said. "Anecdotal evidence suggests a bit of an upturn. The recession in the early 90s meant that from 1991 to 1994 there was a a slight dip in pupil numbers."