Fewer children are being educated in the private sector than since the mid- 1980s, according to the latest census from the Independent Schools Information Service.
Full boarding is down by more than 4 per cent on 1994, to just under 75, 000. Weekly boarding has also fallen by more than 3 per cent to 8,300 pupils. The number of day pupils has risen slightly but the figures overall show a decline of 0.1 per cent - the fourth consecutive year pupil numbers have dropped.
The figures tend to conflict with reports that parents are turning towards the private sector amid claims of under-funding and large class sizes in state schools.
Independent schools, meanwhile, are looking to recruit students from overseas, notably the Middle East, up by 23 per cent, and central America and the Caribbean.
ISIS national director David Woodhead said: "The improvement in day pupil numbers now looks firmly based, but increases in day numbers and the conspicuous success of recruitment overseas are not enough to compensate for the further decline in boarding numbers."
* The Labour MP, George Walden, has challenged the Government to readmit former direct grant schools back into the state sector. In a private member's debate on state and private education, Mr Walden accused the Tories of denouncing Labour for driving direct grant schools into the private sector but lacking enthusiasm when the schools wish to come back.