Wealth rise triggers private school boom

The burgeoning affluence of East Anglian families has sparked a private school boom with record numbers of parents turning their backs on the state system and forking out up to £19,000 a year for independent education.

The burgeoning affluence of East Anglian families has sparked a private school boom with record numbers of parents turning their backs on the state system and forking out up to £19,000 a year for independent education.

New figures reveal that nearly 33,000 children now attend the region's private schools - with the number of day pupils soaring by more than 20pc compared to ten years ago.

According to a report from the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the rise in pupil numbers comes despite a doubling in average fees for both day pupils and boarders since 1997 - with parents paying £3,132 a term on average for day pupils and £6,432 for boarding school places.

Education bosses said it was East Anglia's growing rank of “wealthy achievers” who had ensured the boom in private education, which comes despite a drop in the number of children of school age in the region.

Sam Freedman, of the ISC, said: “East Anglia has seen stronger economic growth than the national average and this has had a dual effect.

“First, more parents can afford independent education. Secondly, the region's population is growing through internal migration. When these conditions are combined with those prevailing nationally it makes East Anglia a boom area for independent schools at the moment.”

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Mr Freedman added that the increased importance assigned to education by politicians and the media were also factors.

Jim Hawkins, head teacher of Norwich School, said Norfolk and Suffolk had undergone a dramatic change in the last few years, with businesses booming and growing numbers of London commuters and second home owners.

He added that extended school hours were attractive to parents with longer working hours and who commute to work.

Rosalie Monbiot, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services, said while the state maintained school sector had not been adversely affected by the boom, it was clear that parents from outside were “buying into” Norfolk to take advantage of its independent schools.

“It is very attractive to wealthy achievers earning a good amount in the city to have a home here and commute so their child can be educated somewhere like Gresham's in a green peaceful setting like north Norfolk,” she said. “As a result house prices in Holt for example have shot up.

“There is absolutely no doubt there are people from London buying second homes here in order to send their child to schools here.

“But maintained schools in Norfolk are steadily improving and we are tackling more and more issues like classroom disruption. The work independent schools do with maintained schools is also excellent.”

Paul George, Norfolk county secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers and head of St Augustine's School in Costessey, said: “It is true that people are more affluent now in our region and have a greater amount of choice because of that.

“A few years ago there were not that many people living here with that same choice.”

Nigel Richardson, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of elite schools, said low teacher turnover in the private sector was also a draw for parents with busy lives.

“A lot of parents are both working very long hours and they increasingly value knowing that they will meet the same teachers three or four years running who will know their children.”

Jonathan Shepherd, general secretary of the ISC, said that public schools had bucked the demographic trend because they offered a broader education, especially when it came to languages.

“The government did make one quite major mistake in making languages optional after Key Stage 3,” he added. “That has led to a huge decline in language teaching in the maintained sector. Parents talk to parents. They are the best recruiting agents for any school.”