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Strength in numbers

Strength in numbers


Parents who have opted for an independent school have no doubt found themselves challenged to justify the decision in an awkward social situation. Julie Robinson highlights the findings of a report on the value of independent schools.

As parents who have opted to send a child to an independent school, you have no doubt at some point found yourselves in an awkward social situation, challenged to justify your decision. What's wrong with the local primary school? Why are you buying privilege for your child? Or perhaps the challenge was a more ideological one: the claim that independent schools do nothing to help education or society and should therefore be closed.

When faced with these kind of challenges, it can be hard to know how best to respond. Sending your child to an independent school is not about 'buying privilege'; it is about giving your child the best possible start in life and in a setting where you feel, as a parent, they will be happy and therefore thrive. The detractors will always see this exercise in parental choice in a negative light because independent education requires the payment of fees and will argue it is therefore exclusive. But to do so is to overlook the fact that currently a third of pupils at our schools benefit from reduced fees, with almost £400 million provided in bursary provision.

Whilst the social justice agenda can be emotive, the notion that the sector does nothing to help education in a wider sense is just plain wrong. The specialist provision at ISC schools means that our country's education offering is broader and has greater capacity than it would otherwise. For example, classics teaching would have ended as an option in the state sector if it were not for independent schools. This is a perfect example of where the independent and state work together on teaching partnerships. A high proportion of our schools offer specialisms which are thin on the ground in the state sector: for very able pupils, SEN, music and dance, singing and boarding.

At the tertiary level, modern languages departments at universities rely on undergraduates from our sector – and the same is true for other vulnerable subjects. ISC schools promote a bias towards science, mathematics and other subjects demanded by employers. By nurturing STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) alongside the performing and creative arts and sports, the independent sector makes an important contribution to our country's diverse educational offer. Our schools demonstrated a willingness to share expertise, resources and experience through voluntary and mutually valuable partnership projects, supporting teacher training and mentoring.

Anybody who tries to argue the independent sector does nothing to help society is overlooking some hard economic facts. ISC published some research by Oxford Economics last term which shows just how significant the impact of independent schools is to the UK economy. The Impact of Independent Schools on the UK Economy is an analysis of 2017 data. The report finds that independent schools save British taxpayers £3.52 billion per year in teaching and capital costs for the education of children who would otherwise be in the state system. A team of analysts at Oxford Economics established that, in 2017 alone, independent schools (including those not within ISC membership) contributed £13.7 billion to the economy, generating £4.1 billion of annual tax revenues and supporting 303,000 jobs – that's more than the total number of jobs in a city the size of Liverpool.

In addition, the report found that the saving to the taxpayer by providing places for pupils who could otherwise be expected to take up a place in the state-funded sector is enough to build more than 20,000 affordable homes. In 2017, schools that are members of the ISC's constituent associations alone saved the equivalent of 3.5% of total state spending on education in England, Scotland and Wales in that year. Another way of looking at it is that the total tax impact of ISC schools on its own last year would have been sufficient to fund, per annum, 108,000 nurses on average full-time pay.

At the local level, independent schools are important employers in the local community, providing not only teaching jobs but employment for support staff. Their economic contribution is considerable, especially when you consider the supply chain, broader business and wider economic support.

Our research found that for every four jobs in our schools, a further three are supported elsewhere in the UK. The largest figure in the report relates to the value of the independent education sector as a contributor to GDP since these figures were first published. It concluded that had all independent fee-charging schools ceased to exist in the late 1940s, then UK GDP would have been £73 billion lower in 2017 – that's a shortfall of 3.6%.

The 1,300-plus schools represented by the ISC's associations contributed £11.6 billion to the UK economy in 2017, generating £3.5 billion of annual tax revenues. In a global context, the provision of a first class education by UK-based schools to international pupils can make a significant contribution to the UK's 'soft power' in the international relations field.

The report makes for powerful reading. So the next time you are challenged about the choice you made for your child, feel free to point out the huge contribution our sector makes towards economic growth. And don't forget to mention the £3.52 billion saved per year! You know the value of your fees in educating your own child and this report shows that there is a positive effect nationally as well.

Julie Robinson is Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Schools Council (ISC).