There are hundreds of public schools in the United Kingdom. There are some world renowned schools such as Eton, Westminster and Winchester. There are dozens of excellent schools; some middling ones and then there are some schools which are not worth the money? How can one tell them apart? This is a vexatious question which can fox even fairly well-informed Britishers. For those from outside the United Kingdom it is even more confusing.
The Clarendon Nine are those that Lord Clarendon inquired into back in the 1860s at the behest of Parliament. These are assuredly the most illustrious schools in the realm. These venerable schools are Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Shrewsbury, Rugby, Westminster Charterhouse, St Paul’s and now less plausibly Merchant Taylor’s. Any of the Clarendon Nine are superb.
Before deciding what determines what is a good public school and what is a bad one parents must ask themselves what their priorities are in selecting a school for their daughters and sons? Is the priority exam results? Is it cultural enrichment in terms of music and theatre? Is it to forge lasting friendships with influential people from across the globe? Is it sporting prowess? Is it to enjoy a healthy outdoor life? Is it to find comfort in a small family-like community? Is it to attend a school that instills the Christian faith? Is it important to be in London or to be in the countryside? Do you want a single sex school or a mixed school? Perhaps it does not matter so long as the other priorities are satisfied. Do you want a school that is very British or more international? There can be a combination of priorities but they cannot all be priorities.
Then you must assess the needs and abilities of your daughter or son. You must get an honest appraisal of your child’s academic abilities. There is no sense in deluding yourself about your child’s intellect and of course to underrate your child would be a grave mistake. What does he or she like doing? Because some schools have excellent music facilities, others emphasise the visual arts whereas other schools are good at neither. Are there any subjects or any other areas of life in which your child needs particular support? Certain schools specialise in assisting those who have dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and the like. How good is your child’s English? Some schools require English that is absolutely fluent. Others will take those whose English is fairly good. Other schools are brilliant at taking pupils with limited English and getting them up to a good standard within a year or two. What is your child’s personality like? Some schools are more suited to extroverts and some are more attuned to those who are reserved.
The older schools tend to have better reputations. They have survived for a reason. Plenty of substandard schools have gone bust. A good rule of thumb is where do British people prefer to send their children? They know the system better than those from abroad. Some British schools have a secret quota of no more than 10% from abroad. If a large minority of pupils come from abroad it starts to put off British parents. They will ask, ”Why are there so many Chinese pupils here? Why is my daughter the only one speaking English in the dormitory? Why Orientals do not want to play sport?” It changes the character of the school too much. It is also unhelpful to foreigners because their nationality reaches critical mass in the school. They start to speak their own language and fail to practise English which was the chief purpose of attending school in the United Kingdom.
It is important to speak to an educational consultant and to take candid advice. If you want your child to go to one of the most outstanding schools then he or she must be signed down early. Eton, Harrow and Winchester (all of them boys only schools) require pupils to be signed down by the age of 8 for them to begin the school aged 13. A depoist must then by paid of around GBP 300. This by no means guarantees a place – it simply means that your son has a possibility of a place. Other schools allow you to register your son or daughter a little later.
A superb public school will produce outstanding examination results; will have world class facilities in terms of a gymnasium, Olympic size swimming pool, a proper theatre, a well equipped music department, many sports fields; it will have plenty of plays and concerts on; it will employ well-qualified and highly motivated staff; it shall uphold discipline without being excessively stringent; it shall be well-regarded generally and it shall help pupils to enter adulthood happy, confident and with all the necessary life skills. It is difficult to find a school that meets all these criteria.
Some schools have close links with the army – notably Wellington College. Note that Wellington College (which is famous) is NOT Wellington School (which is not well known). The word ‘college’ in the United Kingdom can mean a secondary school; it can mean a technical school for young adults or it can mean a fraternity within Oxford University or within Cambridge University. This is very confusing because ‘college’ means so many things that it is almost worthless as a word. In the United States a ‘college’ is the part of a university that teaches young adults for their Bachelor’s degree.
Most schools have a Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The CCF provides a few hours of military training each week with a few weekends a year of military training away from school. The CCF has the word ‘combined’ in its name because it combines the army, air force and more rarely the navy. Joining the CCF is open to boys and girls of every nationality. Do not worry because this is very gentle military training and nothing compared to the real army. In some schools it is compulsory but mostly it is voluntary.
Russia is an extremely centralised country where the most honourable institutions are all based in Moscow. There is a strong tendency among Russians to assume that in the United Kingdom it is the same any anything in London is automatically better than elsewhere. This is not entirely the case. It is true that some tremendous schools are in London such as Harrow and Westminster. But Eton is a little outside London and Rugby is quite far from London. The UK is a small country compared t Russia so being outside London is not such a disadvantage in the UK. Do not assume that because a school is in or near London it is good. Likewise, it would be foolish to dismiss schools simply because they are a considerable distance from London.
In public schools most pupils play sport every day. Sport is prestige – especially if you are a boy. Boys who are talented sportsman are respected and admired by their classmates. Even if a boy is of low academic ability and has no artistic gifts so long as he is an outstanding sportsman then he is a hero to his school fellows. Some schools emphasise sports more than others. Bear this in mind. If your child is marvelous at sports but poor academically then some schools will suit him because he will develop self-assurance through his sporting prowess. Contrariwise – if your child is bad at sports then it is not a great idea to send him to a school where sports are considered vital.
It is crucial to select a school that meets the academic needs of your child. There is no sense in trying to send your son to Eton or Winchester unless he is well above average academically. Likewise it would be a shame to send your daughter or son to a school with a weak academic profile. A school that has very low entry requirements will take a child who is brainy. It is nice to teach a smart kid for once! It will boost their exam results. But such a school will not be suited to a clever child because most of the girls and boys there will be of limited ability.
Most schools have pupils sitting GCSEs and A levels which is the traditional British system. This system allows pupils quite a lot of choice. They are allowed to drop many of the subjects they are bad at. The pupils specialise in their areas of strength. This has the advantage of enabling pupils to become develop intellectual depth but only in narrow field of study.
Other schools do the IB – International Baccalaureate. The IB requires pupils to do 7 subjects right up until the day they leave school. The IB is broad based and compels pupils to do some sciences, Maths, some Humanities subjects and a foreign language. It also required pupils to play sport and to serve their community (possibly through the CCF) in order to pass.
Most public schools have a religious affiliation. Usually it is to the Church of England but sometimes it is to the Roman Catholic Church. In some schools pupils attend church only on Sunday. In other schools it is every day. The Church of England is a very mainstream Christian Church. The Church of England is the state religion of the United Kingdom. Despite the formal worship in schools most pupils are not very religious and some are atheists. Some schools are very religious and have crosses in every classroom. For others religion is a mere formality. Ask yourself which you prefer.
There are schools to suit every pupil. It is exceedingly important to get this choice right. Please ask us for further guidance.
The very name of Eton carries with it connotations of unrivaled prestige and accomplishment. The Duke of Wellington supposedly said, ”the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” The Duke of Wellington was a victorious general and also a Prime Minister. 19 Prime Ministers have been educated at Eton. There have only been 47 British Prime Ministers. Eton has also educated Prince William, Prince Harry and the princes of Saudi Arabia, Nepal and Thailand. Without question it is the school favoured by the leading families from all over the world.