More teachers are deserting state schools to work in the private sector, new figures revealed this week.
The shift was put down to smaller classes in private schools and the opportunity to teach specialist subjects - coupled with increasing bureaucracy and poor pupil behaviour in the state system.
According to the Independent Schools Council's annual census, 1,870 teachers moved from the state to the private sector this year, but only 608 moved in the other direction. The previous year, 1,774 teachers moved from state to private schools.
A leading head yesterday described the shift as a "vote of confidence" in private education.
Colin Ashby, head of the pound;16,665-a-year Trinity school, Devon, and chairman of the Independent Schools Association, told its annual conference in Torquay: "Better facilities and discipline, smaller classes and the greater scope for specialisation were seen as the main reasons for the transfer. That is a vote of confidence in the independent sector from the teaching profession."
But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which represents around a third of teachers in private schools, said: "Employers should take no comfort from this. A recent survey of ours showed the majority of independent school teachers are working over 55 hours a week.
"Teachers may be seduced by the facilities and small class-sizes, but too many independent schools fail to take work-life balance issues seriously."
The ISC said that its 1,272 schools were staffed by 44,618 people, up from 44,104 last year. At the same time, it revealed that class sizes were at a record low. According to its annual census, the average class has 9.87 pupils, compared with 9.99 last year. In comparison, many state-school pupils continue to be educated in classes of more than 30.
Headteachers said it reflected a buoyant private schools' market.
The ISC census also showed that the number of children attending private schools rose last year, despite falling rolls across the state sector. The overall number of pupils in the ISC schools rose from 504,141 to 505,450 this year, including a slight rise in boarding pupils.
This was still well below the 2004 figure of 508,027, but headteachers said it compared favourably to falling numbers in the state system.
Since 2001, there has been a fall of 1.4 per cent in the total number of school-aged pupils in the UK, although the proportion at ISC schools has increased by 2.7 per cent over the same period.
At the same time, there was a massive growth in the number of pupils attending UK private schools from overseas.
High-quality teaching, a flexible education and cheaper flights from budget airlines have led to an 11 per cent rise in the number of overseas pupils at independent schools this year.
The ISC survey showed at least a 25 per cent increase in new pupils from Germany, France and Spain. There were also strong increases from Russia, while Hong Kong and China continued to send large numbers of children to be educated in the UK.
Jonathan Shephard, ISC general secretary, said: "There are low-cost flights coming in to a number of different airports so you are not abandoning your child for a whole term. They can go backwards and forwards at weekends."
Fees at ISC schools continued to rise above inflation, although the 5.7 per cent price increase this year was the lowest since 1999.
The ISC also said that the last 10 years had seen "a very significant decrease" in the number of boys-only schools. There are currently 134 all-boy schools and 198 all-girl schools, eight fewer single-sex schools than a year earlier.
Record low class sizes
* There are 505,450 pupils at private schools covered by the Independent Schools Council, compared with more than 8 million in the state sector
* 68,044 pupils are boarders, up on last year, explained by the rising numbers of overseas pupils
* Average fees are up 5.7 per cent on last year. The average day fee is Pounds 8,910 and boarding pound;19,938.
* Twenty schools charge more than pound;23,000.
* According to the annual ISC census, the average independent school class now has 9.87 pupils, a record low