On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Schools United Kingdom Student life Kirill Delikatnyi

College Stereotypes Nationwide - Reputations of Schools Among Peers

Choosing your college - Private school reputation

So you have chosen to go to the UK to pursue a state-of-the-art private school education. You have done your research, listened to Uncle Josh’s advice, and probably went to an education consultancy. You have selected five or so schools, booked open days there, and the waiting lists made an impression on you that these schools must be in high demand. My case was Uncle Josh. Uncle Josh works in finance, lives a luxurious life in the UK, drives a sports car, and enjoys his acquired British passport. Why chart your own way when you can be like uncle Josh, right? So I went to all of the same schools Uncle Josh did, and guess what? I’m a little short on the sports car.
I am going to tell you why waiting lists, rankings, and, dare I, Uncle Josh are all misleading. This article will explore how private schools get their reputations, how to get an authentic insight into life at your chosen college, and even expose some things that have been taken good care of to be hidden from public awareness. So, Uncle Josh.
Uncle Josh is a good friend of the family, lizards do not pay him to conform me to a school because he’s been brainwashed about its passing-on of traditions. Uncle Josh went to this school 30 years ago and remains in the alumni circle of his peers. When he visits the school for an alumni event, he sees the same buildings, sports fields, and friends’ faces. He feels nostalgic for his childhood, a time most people (privately educated, at least) would associate with happiness. Uncle Josh does not see the current students there because they are not invited; he does not recognise the teachers because most have changed; he does not take part in a class because he is a grown man. Uncle Josh has no idea how the culture at the school has changed. For example, my brother’s school only became (partly) co-educational in 2008 - if Uncle Josh went there 30 years ago, he would not have felt what it is like to study with girls. Do not be ignorant of Uncle Josh’s advice, keep in mind that he is probably talking about a totally different college than the one you are looking at.
We must avoid being drawn into a college choice simply by its booklet cover.
Let’s delve deeper into how schools actually acquire their reputation, what they do to maintain it, what their reputations are among their students, and what their reputations mean for your later life. In other words, let’s turn the page.

Intra-school reputation

I won’t argue against the standard of education that UK private schools set. There is an outstanding quality of education delivered, and children are motivated to perform well in and outside of class. Children are encouraged to explore their extracurricular interests, get stuck in the student community, and aim high. Some schools do this better than others, which is reflected in their rankings.
Remember, parents spend about £40,000-50,000 a year so that these schools will raise their children - so colleges tend to pamper them well. It is all innocent on the student community front, but not all parents with this amount of money are. I studied with children of people who are known pockets of dictators, sanctioned politicians, and those wanted by their home governments. This conglomeration of power and money does hold sway over even the most reputable institutions.

At my brother’s school, there was a child who was a son of a very rich man. The student himself had very low grades. Come his final year at school, the student bragged about spending the summer with the headmaster on his father’s yacht! To everyone’s surprise, the student ends up at Harrow, the second most prestigious school in the country. “Coincidentally,” the headmaster was very good friends with the headmaster at Harrow.

So I will give private schools the credit for delivering a high standard of education and earning their reputation for it, but there are instances where their reputation is contributed to “extracurricularly.”

Inter-school reputation

Near my prep school, there was another private school down the road. We would often play fixtures against them in all sorts of sports, as it was a conveniently short drive. Our head of sports was, funnily enough, a very unfit person who would try to unsuccessfully fit burgers into his mouth as we ran athletic tracks. He would often criticise that school down the road for raising ‘illiterate’ children, with ‘poor manners.’ At fixtures, however, he was sure to be his most presentable self, smiling and complimenting his counterparts and choosing a salad at the post-match lunch.
To this day, it seems strange to me that he would display such classic pretentiousness instead of common trash-talk. If the school were a person, it would be equivalent to them talking to themselves in the mirror, trying to raise their self-esteem, but being afraid to say anything face-to-face to their competition.
The schools are more concerned with convincing their students that they study at the greatest place in the world so that they say so to their parents, friends or become like Uncle Josh. Indeed, schools work hard toward recruiting familial descendants. You would often find name boards of families who have studied at the school in your houses. Moreover, despite the huge fees, private schools are, counter-intuitively, not very profitable businesses and remain afloat largely off donations from the alumni community. This is why you often hear about private schools being called ‘charities.’
The point to draw here is that the role of teachers in establishing their school’s reputation is maintaining the quality of teaching and that their recruitment campaign largely works internally.

Inter-peer reputation

When you go to a regular school, your life is shaped by friends and time you spend there, partially. You still go home and spend time with family and friends from your street. When you go to a private school, it becomes your life.
You mostly only spend time with the friends you acquire there or expand to others you meet during inter-school fixtures and socials. During the time you spend at home, you are still an Eton/Harrow/etc. person. The school will often remind you that outside of school grounds, you “represent it.”
Eton is the smartest and is the strongest at rowing, featuring an Olympic rowing lake. It is also the school of Ian Fleming. Harrow is stylish and Harry-Pottery. Charterhouse is one of the best at football. You would hear these slogans in the papers, on school websites, and before going on an away fixture.

Outside school grounds, students discuss much darker aspects of each other’s schools. Private school kids often end up at the same clubs or house parties of friends that study in a different private school. Oppidans are boring and usually throw classical-music functions, Harrovians are the most stylish and act the wildest at parties, and Carthusians are fond of the powder.
These labels are, of course, just labels and do not apply to every student, but when you start school at 13 and mention it to your peers outside of school grounds, it is confusing why they expect you to be either a geek, party-head, or a druggie.

Media reputation

I won’t disclose the name of this school, but there was a case where the college had uncovered that a quarter of their students were keeping, distributing, or consuming drugs on site. This has led to the expulsion, suspension, or detention of hundreds of students there. A generous donation from some parents, of course, ensured that their children were let off the hook. What baffles me is that you will not hear about this anywhere in the media.

What you will hear in the media is numerous accusations of inappropriate behaviour of some chaplains and teachers towards students in a sexual manner. Accusations of bribery are the big ones, always. Revolts against the headmaster were my school’s claim to fame.

It is important to always check your sources, however. Some schools would throw stories into the media to disprove accusations; some angered parents would exaggerate claims; competing schools may be keen on bringing down their competition. Remember to form opinions from factually supported claims.

How school reputations affect your later life

The move from a school to a university is a life-changing experience. If you come from a private school, you become exposed to much more freedom and individuality than you experienced before.
Some universities hold the private-school community in high regard, and there are others where peers will laugh at you for being from one. Oxbridge is, of course, the famous bundle for recruiting selectively out of private schools. They even came under fire in the press for not being inclusive enough due to this bias. There are others like Durham, for example, which is often labelled ‘private-school extended.’
Russell Group universities are more down-to-earth, and it is harder to bribe your way into any of them, like holidaying with the headmaster on a yacht. Here, it is only the good-grade reputations that you can rely on.
A very important time when your college label becomes useful is in employment. I have had numerous friends who have secured internships, jobs, and referrals by linking with alumni from their schools. I guess this is where the legend of lizard-people ruling society stems from, so be sure to highlight that college in your LinkedIn profile.

Closing thoughts

I hope that by this time, you have realised that what you hear from your peers, uncle Josh, the media, and what the schools try to brand themselves as are all very different reputations. So who to believe?
In my opinion, the best practice is to gain insight from students at these schools.
When you are at the open day, get close with your tour guide, break the ice, and get to know what it is really like being a student there - they won’t translate this to teachers, so ask them about the parties, the naughties, and whether the stereotypes you’ve heard from elsewhere are true. Visit online sources like ‘RateMyTeachers,’ speak to your sibling’s friends at that school, or follow your tour guide’s TikTok.

There, you will see a much more authentic picture and make a better-informed choice of your place of study.