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Tired of London schools? There’s plenty of life elsewhere…

The pound may have slumped and City types presented with ever more compelling reasons to relocate to Paris, Hong Kong or Frankfurt as Brexit bites, but London day schools have never been busier. Every year as registration deadlines pass, new records seem to be broken with 1,000 applications for just 100 year 7 places the new normal in some top-rated establishments.

The prize for the successful (and it’s worth stressing that since most candidates sit multiple assessments, those top line applicant-to-place ratios aren’t quite as horrifying as they appear) is a gold-plated education where top grades are just the starting point. What schools provide themselves is pretty eye-popping – one recently offered parents the chance to make ‘fresh pasta crab ravioli with a lobster bisque sauce’ at a foodie pop up! Also on offer is the richness (in every sense) of life in our cosmopolitan capital, from museums to world class sport and arts.

Your child’s first choice London school is also local then that really is the icing on the cake (or the sauce on the lobster). However, any 11-year-old whose day starts and ends with a bracing hour-plus trek across London to and from that excellent day school (in the dark both ways during winter and later still if games or music practice are involved) may find the experience somewhat less enriching than their parents had hoped.

The social side, too, can be a problem, when visiting a best friend involves Oyster card zones so distant that it’s a surprise they’re not into double figures.

For many London families, all this is a price worth paying. Others, however, may wonder if there isn’t a better way. This is when boarding school can start to look like a viable alternative – even for families who never dreamed it would be. If cost is the limiting factor, state boarding schools can be worth a look. Some are selective, others catchment based. All charge only for the residential component, not for tuition.

Boarding pupils can start early and stay late, with food and friends provided. Best of all, there’s no punitive journey at the beginning and end of the day. With extra-curricular activities not so much extras these days as CV essentials, boarding schools can start to look like the best place to make the most of them. No surprise that the greatest density of boarding schools is to be found within a few hours’ drive of the capital.

Famous public schools (Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Radley), continue to offer chaps full boarding or nothing. Benenden and Heathfield do the same for girls. Co-ed Oundle, Marlborough and Uppingham also still just about hold the full boarding line. But even these bastions of tradition have softened slightly and while pupils can’t go home every weekend, they are released once or twice either side of half term holidays. Parents are also now positively encouraged to visit their children and attend matches, concerts and plays.

The vast majority of boarding schools, however, have capitulated in response to parents’ not unreasonable desire to see their children most weekends. These schools make a virtue – and success – of combining education with what can feel like a large-scale bed and breakfast operation: some pupils are day only, some weekly, some are there pretty much full time. Others can opt for in-school sleepovers because of parental commitments, exam revision, late night play rehearsals or early morning training.

Every year our education consultants work with many families who have decided to make the move out of London, principally for the sake of their children’s education. Some are worried by the intense competition for places, others by unreasonable travelling times. It’s not a universal panacea – hotspots like Guildford, Oxford and Cambridge compete with London levels of anxiety about getting places at the most desirable schools. But there are plenty of locations where good day (and boarding) schools abound and commuting to the capital is bearable (as long as the trains aren’t on strike, that is).

Not convinced? Road test a few school open days. You’re almost certain to come across former urbanites, now not only converted to life outside the congestion zone but positively revelling in it. And quite possibly able to knock up a passable crab ravioli, with or without the assistance of their child’s school.

Want to find out more about schools in and beyond London? Come and talk to our education consultants at the Independent Schools Show in Battersea.


Children’s book of the month

Maps of the United KingdowmEach month the Good Schools Guide Newsletter chooses a brand-new book that we think children will enjoy.

Maps of the United Kingdom by Rachel Dixon and Livi Gosling (Wide Eyed Editions, £17.99)

Age: 6+

What a great idea. In an age where many of us rely on satnavs to get from A to B this stunning book puts maps back on the, yes, map.

Maps of the United Kingdom is informative, entertaining and absorbing. It features 48 maps, exquisitely drawn by Livi Gosling, each of which highlights an area of the UK. The maps cover England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and each one gives a wealth of information about the area, from famous people who were born there to ancient castles, feats of engineering and quirky facts.

Author Rachel Dixon is a travel writer for The Guardian so she knows her stuff. The Cumbria map, for instance, highlights the work of writers like William Wordsworth, Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter, gives details of one of the steepest roads in England (Hardknott Pass) and reveals the oldest working passenger vessel in the world (the Lady of the Lake pleasure boat in Ullswater).

Meanwhile the Dorset map showcases the work of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton (the Famous Five stories were inspired by Blyton’s holidays in the Isle of Purbeck) and gives details of the best place to hunt for fossils (Charmouth beach). The Edinburgh map features Alexander Graham Bell, Robert Louis Stevenson and Marie Stopes and explains that the nearby Forth Bridge set a world record in 1890 for being the world’s longest single cantilever bridge. Today it’s the second longest – after the Quebec Bridge in Canada.

Maps of the United Kingdom is a compendium of fascinating information that readers will return to again and again. Children of all ages will enjoy this book – and so will adults. It’s a classic in the making and we reckon that school libraries should have it on their shelves too.


Going up, going down

Going up

The sound of silence. Ninestiles, an Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ academy in Birmingham, has banned children from talking as they move between classrooms. In a letter to parents the school informed parents that ‘all student movement including to and from assembly, at lesson changeover and towards communal areas at break and lunch’ will be silent, with 20 minute detentions handed out to those who don’t comply. The aim is to ensure that students arrive in lessons ‘ready to learn’, but parents weren’t impressed. One said, ‘it makes school feel like a prison’. Ninestiles defended the policy but said it would be reviewed at the end of term.

Going up, but for how much longer? The government has announced plans to tackle the surge in first class degrees being awarded by universities. In the 1990s only around 8 per cent of students graduated with first class honours. That figure is now around 26 per cent. A panel of experts will review the numbers of firsts and upper seconds (2:1) to ascertain whether they are ‘excessive’.

Going down

Private school fees. A group of teachers from leading public schools Eton, Dulwich College and Winchester College, has announced it is setting up a new sixth-form because school fees have become ‘unaffordable’ for the well-off professional middle-classes. The school, named Scholar 6, will cost parents £13,000 a year and plans to open in London by 2020 with around 250 pupils.

Special needs provision. According to a recent investigation by The Guardian, new Ofsted and CQC (Care Quality Commission) SEND inspections have revealed that nearly half (44 per cent) of councils are failing to provide adequate specialist support for children with special needs.




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