Sunday, May 04, 2008

British private school demand is highest for five years despite big fee rises

Brits desperate to get their kids out of dangerous, anarchic and incompetent government schools

Independent schools have had the biggest increase in pupil numbers in five years as parents dig deep to avoid the state system. Although successive above-inflation fee increases have driven the average cost of private education to more than o11,000 a year, the number of children enrolled in schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has risen to a record 511,677. This is despite a fall in the number of English children of school age and in the number of overseas pupils, and fears that the credit crunch could lead to recession.

The increase has been driven by a big expansion of provision in the nursery sector, as growing numbers of preparatory schools have decided to accept three-year-olds. Longer working hours, commuting and the rising costs of formal childcare have persuaded more parents to turn to independent schools for a preschool education.

Deborah Odysseas-Bailey, chairwoman of the Independent Schools Association and headmistress of Babbington House school in Kent, which has a nursery, said parents were now putting children's names down for school at birth, if not before. "Parents are buying into independent education at a much earlier age. Once they are in, they wish to remain," she said.

Figures also show a strong rise in the number of sixth formers in the independent sector. Barnard Trafford, chairman of the HMC group of elite independent schools and headmaster of Wolverhampton Grammar, said this was because such schools offered a broader education and wider range of subjects, including modern languages, classics and the sciences at A level.

The increase in demand for a private education comes against a 6.2 per cent increase in school fees, according to the ISC annual census. At the top end of the scale, there are now 14 boarding schools and one day school charging more than o27,000 a year.

Vicky Tuck, president of the Girls' Schools Association and principal of the Cheltenham Ladies' College, attributed the rise in part to the spread of new technology. "Parents are quite worried about the isolated lifestyles teenagers can grow into, stuck in their bedrooms with all their gadgets. What they love about boarding is the strength of the community. At the same time, the new technology that pupils do have in boarding school makes it easier to keep in touch."

Head teachers said that parents were willing to make huge financial sacrifices. Several, however, expressed concerns that the economic slowdown might start to affect enrolments from next year. Mrs Tuck said that Cheltenham Ladies' College had deliberately kept its fee increase to 4 per cent this year, in anticipation of harder times. At the City of London School for Boys, the headmaster, David Levin, said: "We needed to start making things easier for parents so we kept our fee increase down to 2 per cent."

Nick Dorey, chairman-elect of the Society of Headmasters and Headmis-tresses of Independent Schools and head of Bethany School in Kent, said that parents were getting help from grandparents or by remortgaging. "That can't go on for ever. If the market falls, that will affect the amount of equity in people's houses that they can convert into school fees," he said. The ISC census is based on returns from 1,271 schools that belong to the council, representing 80 per cent of privately educated pupils.


Boris! "Britain's Labour Party has suffered its worst local election defeat on record and lost control of London, forcing Prime Minister Gordon Brown to rethink his strategy to avoid losing the next national election. Conservative Boris Johnson, a journalist-turned-politician prone to gaffes, wrested the prized post of London mayor from Labour's maverick Ken Livingstone, who has run the capital since 2000. After an often bad-tempered campaign, Mr Johnson paid tribute to Mr Livingstone as a "distinguished leader" of the city, singling out his efforts after the Tube and bus bombings in 2005. He promised to those who did not vote for him to "work flat out from now on to earn your trust and to dispel some of the myths that have been created about me". To those who did vote for him, he said: "I will work flat out to repay and to justify your confidence." ... Mr Johnson will be in charge of an $23.31 billion budget covering public transport, police and fire services in a city of some 7.5 million people. He will oversee preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games and be responsible for promoting policies on housing, the environment and the economy in Europe's biggest financial centre."

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