Much more than academic excellence…

The increase in the number of independent school pupils, highlighted by the latest ISC Annual Census, is a clear indication that more and more parents are realising the benefits the sector delivers.

Parents are rightly demanding when it comes to choosing their child’s school. As decisions go, it is probably one of, if not the most important they will ever make. They increasingly want added value, and a well-rounded education. So while academic standards are important, the opportunity to take part in a wide range of sporting, creative and cultural opportunities that feature in the life of the school are significant factors for pupils and parents too. Well-being is taken increasingly seriously, and schools pride themselves on really knowing and understanding their pupils as individuals and what makes them tick.

Preparing students for life after school is also a key feature of the broad and balanced education on offer at independent schools. The careers advice and support that students get in applying for university is first-rate, and they also have the chance to develop the skills and attitudes that help them get on in life and work. For example, the GDST’s unique CareerStart programme aims to equip students with vital skills – resilience, negotiation, leadership, teamwork, enterprise, creativity and more – to succeed, and our Alumnae Network of over 65,000 former pupils supports them throughout their careers and lives.

While 15 of our schools are situated in London and the South East, we also have significant representation in the rest of the country and the growth in pupil numbers in the North of England and Wales demonstrates that, when it comes to education, the perceived north/south divide is becoming less apparent. While the quality of academic provision was never in doubt, our sector has undeniably suffered in recent years as parents have juggled competing priorities under more constrained circumstances. The green shoots of recovery are certainly in evidence and the year-on-year growth, highlighted by the ISC Census, is a reflection of this.

In our experience, the growth in the number of international students does not demonstrate a new, previously unidentified trend in the independent sector. Compared to their day school peers and those whose parents live with them in the UK, the numbers are still relatively low – only 27,000 of the ISC’s 517,000 pupils in ISC schools have parents who live overseas. While the public perception of independent schooling is dominated by a handful of well-known public schools, the reality is that the vast majority of independent schools are day schools like ours, drawing pupils from their local area and playing a valuable part of their local communities.

Having said that, many UK independent schools, particularly those that cater for boarders, draw pupils from around the world. Our own boarding school, The Royal High School in Bath, has pupils from places as diverse as Nigeria, China and Russia. Some of our day schools also host students from China, usually in the sixth form. What this demonstrates is that our independent schools have an enormous amount to offer international students. We know they value the chance to take A Levels, to participate in the extra-curricular activities that schools offer, and to improve their spoken and written English. Many also go on to study at UK universities and we welcome the diversity and the internationalism that such students bring.

Parents, wherever they live, trust us to educate their children, to bring out the best in them and ensure they are equipped to live happy and fulfilled lives. Education is a vital indicator of any country’s future success and as pupil numbers increase, so the sector’s influence and ability to share knowledge and expertise will spread, both nationally and internationally. This is one trend I feel certain will continue.