Just a decade or so ago, most public‑school-educated parents felt obliged to give their children the same start in life they themselves were given — selling off heirlooms to send their Jacks and Henriettas off to Eton, Stowe, Cheltenham Ladies or St Paul’s. These days the price is just too high, says Andrew Halls, head of King’s College School in Wimbledon, and he’s been honest enough to name the cause: the hordes of prospective parents from other countries, oligarchs and oil men, all jostling for places for their progeny. They push the price of an elite ‘British’ education up beyond the reach of any ordinary Brit.
He’s brave to raise the issue, but what he doesn’t mention is that there is a price to be paid for this by the independent schools themselves. With these new wealthy students — from China, Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia and the Gulf States — come new and often conflicting cultures. They inevitably bring very ‘traditional’ views to schools that have spent the past 20 years remaking themselves to fit the modern world.
According to the Independent Schools Council, there are 2,536 Russian pupils (with overseas parents) studying in this country — three times as many as there were in 2007. It is the trendy thing for moneyed Russian families to do. One 16-year-old Russian girl quoted in the Guardian last year put it well: ‘Nothing brings out the smugness in a middle-class Russian parent’s voice more than saying: “Oh, my children go to school in England.”’ This is good news for so-called UK Plc, but there are downsides too.