Best private schools UK

Our best private schools are still über alles

Not much to complain about in that, you would think. An exquisite, unique mix of the academic and pastoral that might easily be described as world-beating. A tad on the expensive side, naturally. But gob-smackingly good schools bang in the heart of the globe’s greatest megacity don’t grow on trees. To afford those boarding fees of £11, 686 per term (yes, per term) you probably want to be a banker. But if you are a banker, you must count yourself extraordinarily lucky that your children are experiencing something quite so special. No?

Not Arnold Holle, a banker from Düsseldorf. He thinks that British public schools are rubbish. And he should know, as he has put all four of his children through the independent system here, including Constantine, his youngest, who is now at Westminster School – which, back in the dawn of time, I also attended.

Westminster School

Mr Holle has published his concerns in a German newspaper. “It is said time and time again, how paradisiacal and in every respect advantageous English boarding schools are, ” he writes. “My conclusion so far: not everything that glitters is gold, not by a long chalk.” Now it’s often said that, beneath it all, Germans and Britons are very alike. Certainly, you don’t have to go far to find British parents complaining about school fees, or about the fact that the sums required are now so eye-watering that there is no prospect of them sending their own offspring to their almae matres.

But you don’t find many of them whingeing about how terrible those schools are and then blithely writing out the cheques anyway. That is taking self-inflicted school-fee pain to a new masochistic extreme. Mr Holle thinks our public schools are “disappointing”. But in case he hasn’t noticed, there are a host of disappointing schools available here for free, distributed in convenient locations across the nation. Many British parents seek them out, so enabling them to retain both their kidneys and/or avoid remortgaging the house.

The reality is that, owing in large part to the globalised educational marketplace and the arrival of wealthy and demanding foreign parents (sound familiar, Mr Holle?), many great British public schools are ludicrously well-equipped. Westminster School now boasts a dedicated science building with more hi-tech gizmos and labs than you can shake a stick at; a theatre that many a professional troupe would envy; and a music centre that, the school notes, boasts “a recital hall, recording studio, classrooms, and practice and rehearsal rooms”. The art block, once a place for dossers to mess about, now appears to be a Saatchi-esque gallery space, where pupils are encouraged to “create and curate an exhibition of their own work”.

Arnold Holle (Facebook)

Far from embarrassing mediocrity, this is an embarrassment of riches. So gilded are these facilities that something in me yearns for schools like Westminster once again to become the slightly tumbledown, parochial institutions of yore, where extra-curricular activities weren’t much cop but brilliant, if decidedly odd, chalk-dust-covered masters imparted their genius and inspired largely local thickos and scholars alike.

When I was there, for example, Westminster took great pride in the fact that, bar rowing, its sports teams and facilities were all a bit threadbare and useless. Doing well at sport was considered far too hearty. And it never did at Westminster to look as though you were trying too hard. Much better to hint at a bit of mercurial talent, score an early goal to show you could, then get thrashed 14-1. Yet today the cricket pitch at Westminster’s Vincent Square sports field would make the groundsman at Lord’s blush, and the boys eagerly run fielding and catching drills straight out of the latest sports’ science manual. The effort is palpable. Now that really is disappointing.

The point is that our idea – my idea, Arnold Holle’s idea – of the right kind of education is inevitably fixed by what we experienced. He reckons that the German system is tip-top. Fair enough. But let me reassure him that – despite the cricket drills – lucky young Constantine is getting one of the best educations available on the planet. When the time comes I would be delighted to send my own nippers to Westminster – if only Mr Holle could arrange a large loan on easy terms. A million quid ought to cover it. Or he could tell me where all those brilliant free boarding schools in Germany are – you know, the ones where he chooses not to send his own kids.

Interesting facts:

The International School of Geneva (in French: Ecole Internationale de Genève), also known as Ecolint, is a private international school based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is the oldest currently operating International School in the world. The International...

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