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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK


Independent schools 'bouncing back'

Many independent schools now fund free places themselves

Fee-paying schools say they are recruiting more pupils in spite of the abolition of the assisted places scheme.

The Independent Schools Information Service (Isis) says another 3,400 pupils have joined the sector this academic year, a rise of 0.7% and the fourth successive annual increase in pupil numbers.

One of Labour's first moves when it came to power was to announce the phased abolition of the government-funded assisted places scheme, which pays for places at fee-paying schools for bright children from less affluent backgrounds.

While pupils who were already receiving state help with their fees can complete their education in independent schools, there are no new assisted places.

The Director of Isis, David Woodhead, said many independent schools had stepped into the gap to fund free places themselves.

Nearly a fifth of all pupils at fee-paying schools are now receiving some form of financial help from trusts, bursaries and donations.

"Schools are proving very resilient in the face of this major change," said Mr Woodhead.

"Strong growth has been maintained through all the pre-school and junior ages, and this promises future health for the sector."

New pupils down

However, analysis of just those schools which used the assisted places scheme shows they suffered an overall year-on-year loss of 1,918 pupils after a 7,787 (20%) fall in the number of government-funded places.

And the number of new pupils entering the schools was 3,611 lower, a fall of about 6%.

Isis has expressed concern that the number of children from state primary schools entering independent secondary schools is falling as a result of the abolition of assisted places.

The Isis census for 1999 shows that there were a total of 481,321 pupils attending schools registered with the organisation.

Day pupil numbers rose by 2.7% over the past year, while the number of boarders continued to decline, falling by 4.3%.

The cost of a private education has increased above the rate of inflation, with fees rising by an average of 5.7% over the past year.

Isis schools account for about 80% of the pupils who attend fee-paying schools in the UK.

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