Independents don't expect to feel the crunch until September
The number of pupils attending independent schools has remained stable since last year, but heads fear the impact of the recession will not be felt fully until September.
Census data released this week by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) shows pupil numbers have fallen by just 108 since 2008.
But school fees rose by an average of 5.9 per cent. The average termly fee is now pound;4,034.01. Boarders pay an average of pound;7,759.06 a term.
Presenting the figures, Larner Bernard of the ISC said the rises were affordable. "Many parents on tracker mortgages will find that their disposable income has increased and that they have more money in their pockets," she said.
Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and head of St Albans School, agreed that schools should not be overly concerned by the dip in pupil numbers.
"Every sector of the economy is suffering serious falls," he said.
"The fact is, you can defer the purchase of a house, you can defer the purchase of a car, but you can't defer the fact that your child is getting another year older, another year closer to important exams."
But heads concede that the impact of recession is unlikely to be felt fully until next academic year.
David Lyscom, ISC chief executive, said: "The proof of the pudding is when children actually turn up on the first day of term in September.
"But we're not facing a collapse and a catastrophe. Inevitably, schools will be able to manage their way through, as they did last time."
During the recession of the mid-1990s, pupil numbers at independent schools fell by 2.3 per cent.
But Jill Berry, president of the Girls' Schools Association and head of Dame Alice Harpur School in Bedfordshire, believes that this will merely force schools to run more efficiently.
"Schools are thinking they can operate as leaner, meaner machines," she said. "It makes us think about what makes independent schools special - the quality of the relationships and the quality of the teaching and learning. Things such as new buildings can be put on hold."
The census is based on responses provided in January this year by the council's 1,265 member schools. These comprise approximately half of all private schools.
The total number of ISC schools has fallen since last year, down from 1,271 in 2008. Since the census was conducted, some smaller independents have been forced to close or to merge with larger schools.
But Mr Lyscom insisted that some closures take place each year.
"Every year, you tend to lose four or five schools," he said. "We're businesses, and that's just normal activity. There's always some churn at the margins."
Boarding fee: pound;7,759.06 (percentage increase since 2008: 5.74%)
Day fee: (boarding and day schools): pound;3,441.51 (percentage increase since 2008: 6.06%)
Overall: pound;4,034.01 (percentage increase since 2008: 5.9%)
Pupils who receive bursaries, scholarships or other financial assistance: 33%.