THE BLOG

Moving With the Times

23/05/2013 12:12 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

Depending on what news reports you read, there are differing views on the state of the independent schools sector. But champions of private education will be encouraged to see the latest figures from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census for 2013.

The report suggests that despite the ebb and flow of the economy, independent schools are continuing to flourish.

But as I have highlighted in a previous blog, independent education is undergoing significant change in order to offer parents the high quality teaching and learning they are seeking for their children.

According to the ISC, fee-paying schools have got bigger and become increasingly diverse over the past 25 years. This can bring many benefits for pupils and their families. As a school gets larger, income from fees can also increase, making more funds available for investing in quality sports or music facilities as well as new equipment in the classroom.

However, a growing school needs to plan its development carefully. Economies of scale must be considered, such as whether spending money on a new fitness suite or broadening a particular subject area will add value to children's education.

And then there are the issues that parents will be most concerned about. As a school gets bigger, will it still be able to deliver the personalised education they want for their children? And will there be an impact on class sizes or quality of teaching?

It was also interesting to read that, according to the ISC, there are now a higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils attending fee-paying schools in England than there are in the state maintained sector - a difference of more than 1%.

This is certainly a reflection of changing society as a whole, but it could also suggest that independent schools are succeeding in attracting pupils from beyond their local catchment areas.

Private schools are expanding internationally too. The report shows an increase in the number of ISC schools with overseas campuses. And in many cases these are larger than their UK counterparts.

The benefits of an international presence are clear. As well as providing another source of revenue, overseas campuses can offer a range of opportunities for the school community, such as international pupil exchanges.

Another area explored in the census was the development of school partnerships. Figures revealed that ISC schools are increasingly forming partnerships with maintained schools, sharing facilities and expertise. The report states that there are 1,126 schools involved in partnership activities and 32 schools are sponsors or co-sponsors of academies - a slight increase from 31 in 2012.

When partnership schemes are well designed, the independent school pupils gain as much as their state school partners. Key to success is the careful planning needed to ensure that partnership initiatives are not simply a box ticking exercise. They have enormous potential for independent schools to make a real difference to the achievement and educational experiences of children both inside and beyond their own school gates.

As the ISC survey demonstrates, independent schools are evolving to meet the demands of a changing society but the most successful schools are those that put children and their families at the heart of decision making.

Doing this will help schools to plan for the future while remaining true to the values that keep parents coming back.