The global reputations of leading independent schools are being tarnished by unscrupulous education advisors who are charging overseas parents tens of thousands of pounds for poor advice that fails to secure places for their children, a leading tutoring firm has warned.
School placement agencies, most of which are UK-owned but have no links to independent schools, regularly charge unsuspecting parents up to £100,000 per child for advice that is misguided, outdated or even counterproductive, said Will Orr-Ewing, director of Keystone Tutors, ahead of the annual Head Masters’ Conference of leading independent schools next week.
“We have met families who have spent a small fortune on services that amount to little more than glorified form-filling,” Mr Orr-Ewing said.
“Many overseas parents are unfamiliar with the British independent school system and agree to part with large sums of money in the mistaken belief that it will guarantee a place at Eton, Harrow, or Winchester.”
“I’ve heard of cases where a family has been advised to buy a house near a leading school for cash on the assumption that their son would get into the school six months later. Sadly, he was too old and their house purchase was two and a half years too late.”
Conversely, some parents are paying extortionate fees to consultants to help their children gain entry to schools that actually have surplus places.
Mr Orr-Ewing stressed that public schools were not complicit in these sharp practices and were quick to condemn them when they came to light. However, they often had to deal with the consequences of parents’ disappointment.
Schools have complained that some overseas parents have been told by consultants that their children would gain automatic admission to the most elite schools if they passed Grade 6 in piano or that they should learn to eat soup, spaghetti, peas and asparagus “with grace and confidence”. One parent, who was advised to give the housemasters and registrar small gifts to help the admission process along, asked “if Fortnum & Mason jam” would be appropriate.
“Unfortunately, in some countries there is a view that the more money one is willing to spend, the greater the likelihood of a favourable result. It is a view many agencies shamelessly exploit to charge enormous fees that are unrelated to any chance of success.
“Educational consultants have been known to point parents towards schools that pay the most generous commissions as opposed to the school that best suits their child,” Mr Orr-Ewing said.
“In the worst cases, agencies find a place at an unsuitable school and then induce the parents to move their child to another after a few terms.
“It usually isn’t difficult to persuade parents to move their children,” Mr Orr-Ewing explained, “because the school doesn’t conform to their preconceptions, the children aren’t happy. Then the parents are charged all over again and the agents earn additional commission.”
Britain’s independent sector remains very popular with overseas parents; almost 40,000 pupils are non-British.
In London and the Home Counties the most sought after schools by expat parents according to Keystone are:
- Westminster Under (Boys)
- Summer Fields (Boys)
- Sussex House (Boys)
- Colet Court (Boys)
- Westminster Cathedral Choir School (Boys)
- Falkner House (Girls)
- Fulham Prep (Co-educational)
- The Dragon (Boys)
- Wetherby Prep School (Boys)
- St Philips (Boys)
- Eton (Boys)
- Westminster (Boys)
- St. Paul’s Boys (Boys)
- Harrow (Boys)
- Wycombe Abbey (Girls)
- Winchester (Boys)
- Cheltenham Ladies College (Girls)
- Benenden (Girls)
- St. Mary’s Ascot (Girls)
- American School of London (Co-educational)
Unfortunately, expat parents’ ideas about what British schools look for can be wide of the mark and easily abused.
“Some consultants sell preparation courses that claim that a child has to know how to shoot, hunt, shop at Savile Row and get out of a Bentley in order to survive at an English public school. Such advice betrays a complete misunderstanding of what these schools are today. They have a fantastic track record of integrating students from all over the world into their communities,” Mr Orr-Ewing said.
Mr Orr-Ewing says if Keystone can’t help because the child isn’t ready for an English school or if expectations are unrealistic, he has no hesitation turning parents away.