After more than five years in the tuition business, I’m used to hearing parents’ demands when it comes to choosing a private school for their child. Whether they want single-sex or co-ed, excellent sports facilities, a location close to London, or a decent position on the school league tables, I understand that when paying for education, people want to know exactly what they’re getting and they want to get the best.
But even I’ve been fazed by the latest request stipulated by no fewer than three clients from overseas, specifically China and the Middle East. Their non-negotiable is that the school has to be – and this is an absolute must – more expensive than the one their child is in now.
It certainly gave me pause for thought. But then I figured these parents believe you get what you pay for, right. Wrong. Price isn’t always an indicator of quality and it’s very easy to hike up the cost of anything, if that’s what the client wants.
Actually, most independent schools charge around the same, although they offer different types of education. Some are doggedly academic whereas others are more relaxed and creative; schools may be large and traditional or small and nurturing, have a religious ethos or focus on extra-curricular activities. It’s not a case of one size fits all and very much depends on the child.
It may come a surprise to learn that Britain’s most famous school, Eton College – which counts numerous prime ministers and royals in its alumni – charges just over £37K per year, which is less than little-known Tonbridge School, which asks for a few pennies short of £39K.
However, the clients who have stipulated the higher price have also been seduced by the romantic idea of a quintessentially English education. That means they’re willing to pay for the prestige of the ancient, listed building, possibly with a chapel attached; the boaters at Harrow, the tailcoats from Eton, or the breeches and yellow socks worn by the pupils at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. An old-fashioned uniform preserves tradition but it doesn’t mean newer sports equipment, a fancier media suite or better teachers.
My job is give clients what they want. However, I must also advise them that in order to choose the right school, they need to read between the lines in the glossy prospectus, visit the school at a time other than the rehearsed opening day, don’t take the league table results as gospel (one school charges a lot because it’s the only independent school to achieve more than 90% A to A* grade level. But these results are massaged as it is highly selective in its intake). Most of all they need to think about whether it suits their child.
I have given you this advice for free but if you’d prefer to pay for it, I’m happy to send you my bank details.
Stephen Spriggs, Managing Director, William Clarence Education
About William Clarence Education: The leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, we help and advise families from around the world to reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of UK education