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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Rise in private schools 'babysitting'
The decline in boarding means beds are free
There has been a huge increase in the number of day pupils in independent schools who occasionally board overnight.

Schools are in effect "babysitting" for busy parents - especially those with younger children.

Figures released on Wednesday from the annual census of schools in the Independent Schools Council (ISC) show that the number of these "occasional boarders" went up by more than 75% last year.

This runs against a continuing trend in which the overall number of boarders is declining.

The figures also show a marginal increase in the number of pupils in independent schools in the UK.

On the day the census was taken in January, there were 484,052 pupils in the 1,280 schools represented by the ISC's member associations.

This accounts for about 80% of all children in the independent sector.

Spare staff

Some schools are actively promoting their ability to cater for pupils' occasional boarding needs.

This helps them make use of the staff and facilities freed up by the general decline in boarding.

The schools say that the only way an increasing number of parents can afford rising fees is if they both work.

That in turn means parents have increased professional demands on their time and sometimes spend evenings working late rather than looking after their children.

The parents know their children will be well cared for - and the children themselves typically relish the idea of an occasional "sleep over" with their school friends.

The ISC's census also shows that schools are more than making up for the drop in the number of pupils whose places are funded by the state under the now-disbanded "assisted places scheme".

The scheme was scrapped by the incoming Labour government three years ago - but children who already had places at the 159 schools in the scheme were allowed to keep them.

'Effort and ingenuity'

As these children leave school, their places are being more than taken up by pupils whose parents are paying the fees - although there has also been an increase in the number of pupils getting financial help from the schools.

This has risen to over 20% of pupils, the highest level yet recorded.

David Woodhead, national director of the Independent Schools Information Service, said: "Independent schools go from strength to strength.

"Growth has been achieved through all the main pre-school, junior and secondary ages.

"The resilience of schools adjusting to the loss of assisted places is very encouraging indeed. It is testimony to the excellence of the education they provide.

"It is also attributable to their effort and ingenuity in finding alternative sources of financial support."

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26 May 99 | Education
Boarding schools woo new pupils
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