Strictly speaking, choosing a school is simply a mammoth shopping expedition, though sadly without the January Sales. Aside from the family home, investing in education is probably the single-most most expensive purchase a parent will make, as well as arguably the most important one.
Putting aside for a moment the tried and tested method of choosing a school that meets the needs of individual children, years of supporting parents says to me it’s often as much about the parents’ buying type, as it is about the child. Our personality, opinions and aspirations are merely the outcome of our life experiences. Unsurprisingly, these have an influence on school buying decisions. Bearing this in mind, perhaps parents embarking on one of the most important purchases of their lives should ask, what type of buyer am I?
The Third Generation Buyer
Traditionalist who will only consider the brand-name school great grandfather attended. Tends to believe in the laid-back approach where putting child’s name down from birth is still all that’s needed to secure entry. Lack of interest in the extensive ‘newcomers’ to the school choice market. Probably wore a black arm-band when their school went co-ed or their ex-boarding house admitted girls. Strong supporter of alumni events and a proactive fundraiser.
The ‘I Was Not Happy At My School’ Buyer
Decisions are driven by emotions from personal childhood experiences of school. May have felt they were bullied by peers, hated boarding, disliked single sex environment or perhaps had a learning difficulty that was not identified and supported. Finds it tricky to make decisions for their own children based on the here and now, independent of personal experience.
The ‘Over My Dead Body’ Buyer
Passionate opinions make certain future school pathways such as private schooling or boarding out of the question. Often lacking in up-to-date accurate knowledge of schools. Struggles to keep an open mind, tending to consider schools which match political or personal opinions, rather than which school provides the best solution for their child’s needs. Lacking an all-encompassing approach, considering all school types within their search region.
The Confused Buyer
Constantly seeking opinions from dinner party acquaintances, school gate banter, family, friends and a whole range of experts. Believes every word they hear. As a result, tends to go round and round in circles with opinions about schools. Finds it impossible to make a final decision. Neglects personal gut feeling and tends to needs others to approve of their choice.
The First Time Buyer
Usually entrepreneurial, self-made, finance sector or dotcom parents, investing their annual bonus in education, giving a leg-up to their children, which they did not have themselves. Expect a great deal from schools, including sometimes performing miracles, in return for their hard-earned investment. Like to challenge and even mould a school, rather than trusting the experts with hundreds of years of proven excellence behind them. Finds it tricky to handle the Rottweiler receptionist who answers calls regarding admissions when enquiring about process, timing and procedure for applications. Lacks confidence to ask the right questions due to shortage of personal experience in this area.
The Professional Middle Class Buyer
Both parents working their socks off to pay school fees, often in place of family holidays, cars and other luxuries, driven by a belief that independent education is a crucial investment for their children’s future. Often motivated by a worry that local state school options do not offer the environment or support their children’s individual needs. Scholarships, bursaries and increasingly help from grandparents are often critical to the school fees finances adding up long term. Working hard, they often struggle to find time to research schools and process. Burning the midnight oil is a regular occurrence.
The International Buyer
Passionate belief in the quality of all things British and sees schools in our green and pleasant land as the gold standard worldwide. Whether it be Range Rover, grouse shooting, polo or independent schooling, the aim is to buy into all things British, often with the child’s pathway mapped since birth. From London pre-prep within walking distance of their Chelsea townhouse to Eton, Charterhouse or Sevenoaks, Oxbridge or LSE, their approach is driven by a passionate desire to give their child what they understand to be the best of British education. Brand names rather than an honest assessment of the child’s attributes and needs usually lead the search.
The Expat Buyer
Currently optimising the opportunities from living abroad by immersion in other cultures within an international expat community. Children happily settled at international school abroad, parents drinking G&T and enjoying the sunny, country club life-style, often blissfully unaware that things have moved on back home. Faced with a real dilemma as to when to transition from the local British international school back to the UK, to ensure the same successful entry to a top UK university as a home-grown student. Sudden contract changes or lack of information about the entry and assessment timeline and process for UK schools can lead to last-minute panic decisions and inevitable confusion or disappointment.
The ‘Struggling To See Though School Marketing Speak Buyer’
Trawls glossy brochures, websites and other marketing material drinking in information about dozens of schools over many months. Without an independent view or personal experience to go alongside their research, finds it tricky to identify the USP of each individual school and therefore which one might best suit their child. Nervous to take the plunge by short-listing and arranging visits to see the schools in action, so lacking a feel for the people and atmosphere that make each individual school unique.
The Keeping Up With The Jones’s Buyer
Uses the local net curtain twitching approach to school search. The ultimate networker. Has a full social calendar of coffee mornings, supper invitations, village hall Pilates, as well as being an acting committee member of charity or school fundraisers. Chalks up the miles with after school clubs and activities as well as fervent supporter of school concerts, plays and rugger matches. The only school choice is the local school where parents’ social lives are a bi-product of their child’s friendships. Exhausted commuter Dads endeavour not to fall asleep at the dinner party table.
The Tiger Mother Buyer
Driven, passionate, ambitious, fully-employed in steering their children’s achievements towards child prodigy goals. Often a worrier and a deep thinker. Whispers in hushed tones at the school gate. In so doing, like an MI5 covert operation, seeks to find out the names of the best tutors to support their child’s rigorous home-learning programme. Once the help in place, doesn’t like to share details with other parents in case their child loses the edge in a competitive entry process. Pre-test, interview and assessment dates are the most important ones on the family calendar and preparation is all-consuming. Forgets that schools are looking for the all-round child who has the social skills and interests to contribute to the school community as a whole.
Whatever type of buyer you are, my advice is put this aside, keeping your child’s personality, academic attributes and interests at the heart of your school search. You’ll be surprised how this opens up your options, making the whole process less complicated.
Whatever type of buyer you are, if you’re about to embark on a school shopping spree, why not attend one of our newly launched Country Life Future Schools Fair events in 2016/17?
Taking place in regions across the UK, these are your exclusive opportunity to kick-start your research and save valuable time by talking to schools face-to-face as well as accessing independent expert advice.
For more details on dates and locations or to register for your free ticket go to https://www.futureschoolsfair.com