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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Boarding increases despite higher fees
Hockerill Anglo-European College
Schools are seeing more overseas students
The number of pupils at boarding schools in the United Kingdom has increased for the first time since the 1980s - even though fees are going up by more than 7% a year.

The annual census of the 1,271 schools in the Independent Schools Council (ISC) shows the increase was led by a rise in the number of girls boarding.

Boarding school numbers
1985: 126,000
1995: 93,000
2002: 70,000

One head teacher said parental fears for girls' safety might be partly responsible for this.

Overall the numbers attending ISC schools - four fifths of all independent schools - went over half a million for the first time, to 500,966.

More expensive

There had been a rise of 8,463 or 1.7% on the census day, in January, compared with last year.

Schools have been spending more on buildings and equipment - 437m last year, an average of 878 per pupil, compared with 823 in 2000.

But parents are paying for it: fees are going up on average by 7.5%, slightly higher than they did last year.

Short stays

The new figures show that the number of female boarders has risen by 2.5%.

The chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, Gill Lumsdon, said more London families were sending their daughters away to board out of fears for their safety.

"Over the last 10 years we've seen an enormous increase in interest in boarding from parents of 11-year-old girls," said Ms Lumsdon, headmistress of Kensington Preparatory School, London.

"I think it's partly to do with security - they worry about them travelling around London on their own and they like the security."

Massive investment in new buildings and in improvements to equipment and facilities outstrips the state sector by far

Head teachers' leader David Hart
Despite this increase, the number of boarding pupils remains considerably less than in previous decades - down from 126,000 in 1985 and 93,000 in 1995 to 70,000 in this year's survey.

The ISC's information service said the number of "occasional boarders" - day pupils who spend some nights in their schools - also rose, by 2.7%.

Last year, 16,675 day pupils slept over on an average of 12 nights each.

Overseas students

A growing number of full-time boarders are from abroad, particularly from Hong Kong and China.

Because of this, schools recently announced special training for their staff in being aware of the sensitivities of children from other cultures, so as not to cause offence inadvertently.

There has also been recruitment from Germany, with teenage pupils staying in the UK to improve their English.

ISC spokesman David Woodhead said independent schools were "in excellent shape, with one of the biggest boosts in pupil numbers ever recorded".

Not Hogwarts

"The good news about boarding numbers is timely in a year in which cinema audiences were introduced to an admittedly eccentric boarding school in Hogwarts Academy," he said.

The children I interview have always read Harry Potter but they are aware that Hogwarts is fictional

School principal Clarissa Farr
"But the turnaround in boarding fortunes is less to do with Harry Potter than with the efforts of boarding schools themselves and successive awareness campaigns in convincing parents that they are an attractive modern educational alternative."

The principal of Queenswood School and chairman of the Boarding Schools' Association, Clarissa Farr, said children did not come to boarding schools believing they would be like Hogwarts.

"The children I interview have always read Harry Potter but they are aware that Hogwarts is fictional and treat with a certain amount of indulgence the idea that boarding school is supposed to be like Hogwarts," she said.

State schools outstripped

The leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said some of the reasons for the rise in people's use of the independent sector were clear.

"An overall pupil-teacher ratio of 10.43 to one is beyond the wildest dreams of the state sector," he said.

"Massive investment in new buildings and in improvements to equipment and facilities outstrips the state sector by far."

The figures held a clear message for Tony Blair - who told a teachers' union conference this time last year that his aim was "to get to the situation where we have a state education system that is as good in its facilities and investment as the independent sector".

"Unless the government produces the goods in the comprehensive spending review it will, once again, be expecting the state sector to compete with both hands tied behind its back," Mr Hart said.

See also:

17 Nov 00 | Education
Boarding schools tout for US pupils
19 Feb 01 | Education
Germans opt for UK boarding schools
02 May 00 | Education
Rise in private schools 'babysitting'
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