Independent Schools Council publishes 2024 census

  • 20th May 2024

The Independent Schools Council has published its annual census, which canvassed its 1,411 member school in January, all of which completed and returned the survey. Here is a summary of its main findings.

Stable pupil numbers at independent schools

  • There are now 556,551 pupils at 1,411 ISC member schools. There has been an increase in the number of schools from last year when there were 554,243 pupils at 1,395 schools.
  • At the 1,356 schools completing the census in both 2023 and 2024, pupil numbers have decreased slightly by 0.1%.
  • 107,259 pupils are new to their school in the current academic year, a decrease from 110,211 in 2023. Looking just at schools that completed the census in both 2023 and 2024, the number of new pupils has decreased by 2,939 or 2.7%.
  • Most ISC schools are small – half of schools have fewer than 285 pupils and one quarter of schools have fewer than 153 pupils. Only 97 ISC schools (7%) have 1,000 pupils or more.
  • 681 schools stated that they had a religious affiliation or ethos. While most of these have a Christian character, the sector also provides for a range of faiths including Muslim and Jewish schools.
  • More than four out of 10 pupils in ISC schools are from a minority ethnic background. The proportion of pupils who are from a UK minority ethnic background continues to increase, showing that ISC schools reflect the overall diversity of the UK school population. In 2022, 39.6% of pupils identified as UK minority ethnic, whereas in 2023, the proportion has risen to 41.7%.
  • 111,154 pupils are identified as having SEND, equating to one in five of all pupils, an increase of 8% from last year.
  • 62,708 non-British pupils attend ISC schools this year, comprising 11.3% of all ISC pupils.
  • 2,055 pupils in ISC schools are from Ukraine. 750 of these pupils have both parents remaining in Ukraine, and a quarter are new to ISC schools this academic year.

Fee increases reflect an inflationary economic environment and additional costs

  • ISC schools set fees during a period of historically high inflation and with the cost of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme expected to increase. This year, the average fee increase is 8%, similar to government figures of inflation at the time schools made fee decisions for the coming year.
  • The average day school fee has increased 8%, with the majority of day schools charging between £3,000 and £6,000 per term.
  • Fee assistance worth over £1.4 billion was provided this year, an increase of 10.2%.
  • Of this fee assistance, £1.1 billion was provided directly by schools, of which more than £500 million was means-tested.
  • Over a third of all ISC pupils receive some type of fee assistance.
  • The average means-tested bursary was worth £12,909 per annum, an increase of 9.3% compared with last year, showing a continuing trend in schools to support more disadvantaged families in accessing high-quality education.
  • 9,328 pupils paid no fees at all, either via a full bursary or a combination of a bursary and scholarship(s).

Stability in the boarding sector

  • There were 65,649 pupils boarding on the day of the census – 18 January 2024. This represents 11.8% of all pupils in ISC schools and a small decrease of 676 boarders compared with 2023.
  • If we consider pupils registered to board at any point during the academic year 2023/24, there were 69,981 boarders.

ISC schools are increasing their state school partnership activities

  • ISC schools reported 9,248 partnerships in the calendar year 2023, an increase from 8,793 last year. These activities include helping sixth-form pupils from state schools apply to university, sharing facilities, serving as a state school governor, and seconding teaching staff to state schools.
  • 1,068 ISC schools reported operating at least one partnership with a local state school, an increase from 1,043 last year.
  • Beyond partnerships with state schools, between £9.9 and £16.million was raised for charities at ISC schools this year and 935 ISC schools organised volunteering opportunities for their staff and / or pupils. 

Most sixth form leavers from ISC schools study at highly ranked universities

  • 90% of Year 13 ISC pupils continue to higher education in the UK or overseas.
  • 51% of ISC pupils who enter UK higher education attend one of the ‘Top 25’ group of universities as defined by the Sunday Times Good University Guide.
  • 4% of ISC pupils entering UK higher education attend either Oxford or Cambridge.
  • 7% of ISC pupils who enter higher education choose to attend an overseas university. Universities in the US are the most popular, attracting 48% of this set of pupils. Last year, pupils went on to 616 different overseas universities in 58 different countries.

UK independent schools are increasing their international presence

  • ISC schools operate 129 campuses overseas, educating over 93,257 pupils. This is an increase from 107 campuses and more than 71,500 pupils in 2023.
  • There are 26,195 non-British pupils at ISC schools whose parents live overseas, an increase of 2.9% on 2023. Pupils from mainland China and Hong Kong comprise the largest groups with 5,824 and 5,075 pupils respectively.
  • 36,513 non-British pupils have one or both parents living in the UK. 12,547 of these come from countries in the European Economic Area.
  • This year, 429 teachers from outside the UK came to teach in ISC schools.

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