The British Schools Association (BSA) has written a letter to UK immigration minister Mark Harper urging him to remove overseas pupils at boarding schools from the country's net immigration figures.
According to BSA, including pupils in this set of data risks driving them away, which could have a harmful knock-on effect on the economy, while also reducing the diversity of schools.
John Newton, head of Taunton School, wrote the open letter and urged the minister to “consider, most seriously and urgently, removing from the student immigration figures those students coming to attend our member schools”.
He added: “To discourage them in any way, to send the message that they are dangerous and not wanted, despite their youth, is to send them straight to other markets for education in Australia and in the US, to damage valuable schools for whom international students are commercially vital, and to do serious harm to the British economy when it is already fragile.”
The government is said to be looking at developing a new system of monitoring student migration but this debate has so far been focused on college and university students, rather than boarding schools.
Mr Newton added in his letter that the boarding school business is a “safe sector, as compliant as the UK Border Agency could wish”.
A spokesman for the immigration agency responded: “There is no limit on the number of overseas students who can study at our world class institutions and they continue to attract the best and the brightest. Altering the internationally agreed definition of a migrant would not change that and could in fact undermine public confidence in our statistics.”
It is hoped that the ongoing discussions taking place at the moment will clear up the status of students and deliver an accurate portrayal of how many overseas people are studying in the country.