Why more London parents are opting for a rural education for their children


Ever increasing competition is fuelling a frenzy for places amongst London’s most sought after independent day schools and prompting parents to re-consider options further away from home.

According to The Good Schools Guide “such is the pressure for places at some London Pre-Preps that parents have been known to enlist the help of tutors, even for their 3-year-olds, to get the required head-start.” A telling survey by The Sutton Trust confirms that “nearly half of children in London now receive extra tuition.”

Colet Court, a boys’ only Prep School in London, provides a suggested reading list and a Maths syllabus for parents who like to know what to expect from the selection procedure for their 7 year olds. Only boys who are performing well ahead of their age group and are top of their class are likely to be successful applicants here.  

Andy Mayfield, Director of Admissions at St Paul’s School to which most Colet Court pupils go at the age of 13 says “About 600 apply for 90 places each year. When we saw the numbers jump from 400 to 600 recently, we decided we just couldn’t interview all those children. We needed to find some way of reducing the numbers down.”

“When demand outstrips supply, both parties resort to playing games.” says Ysenda Maxtone Graham writing for the Spectator. “Parents’ weapons are (a) to have the child heavily tutored, (b) to apply for six or seven schools and (c) to pay acceptance deposits for more than one. The schools’ weapons are (a) to devise exams which you can’t prepare for and which can tell whether a child has been over-tutored and (b) to demand a dauntingly large deposit on acceptance of a conditional place.”

With reports of rising mental health issues in children hitting the headlines, and Headteachers raising concerns that parents who ‘hot house’ their children are damaging their health, it’s no wonder that level-headed parents are starting to reconsider their options. Options that allow their children to still have a childhood.

Recent research by economists at University College London confirms what many parents know to be common sense; happy children grow into more successful adults, and for the first time it makes the connection between happiness and income. Parents lucky enough to be able to choose, seek out quality, all round education, at schools that can offer extensive sports provision as well as extra-curricular activities that develop character.

Liz Hungin is an urban mum who chose a rural education for her son, Simon. “The pressure [in London] was ferocious.” she told The Independent. “A lot of Simon’s contemporaries were being tutored for many hours a day after school to gain places at the ‘important’ schools and we didn’t want that for our son.”

She continues saying the lack of outdoor sporting space at London’s Prep Schools was another reason. “Simon had a lot of energy that was not being expended being ferried to a park for an hour a few times a week,”

Alexandra Lloyd is another professional London mum who made the decision to send her eight-year-old son, Tom, to boarding school in Oxford, about an hour and a half away from the family home. Alexandra and her husband Charles are just one of many couples now choosing a traditional country education, citing factors like long working hours, the cost of after-school child care, and anxiety surrounding London’s public transport links among the reasons for their decision.

More and more Prep Schools in the home counties are introducing shuttle buses which allow London based parents to take advantage of the weekly boarding option. The school shuttle takes your child out of London and off to school at the beginning of the week and then returns them for the weekend, homework completed, ready for some quality time with the family. Both parents and children reap the benefit of reduced time commuting, driving children to and from clubs, and not having those fraught evenings of homework battles. Bussing children to a good school outside London is suddenly an attractive alternative.

From Winchester and Wycombe Abbey to Wellington and beyond, the perceived elite of private education in Britain has long lain outside the borders of London and wealthier families have a long tradition of attending prestigious boarding schools, often found in more rural settings where they have the grounds and facilities to offer the full breadth of education, without the time restrictions of day schooling. Though boarding has not been as fashionable as previously over recent years, the increasing competition for London day schools amid increased awareness that life at a modern boarding school is much changed from what it was even a generation ago, prompting an interesting resurgence of this trend.

So what can London parents expect from the weekly boarding option? We spoke to Highfield School in Hampshire, a co-ed Prep School that has been feeding England’s most eminent public schools for over a century and provides a weekly shuttle for London families.

“Highfield provides the opportunity for children to throw themselves into a wide range of sports, on five afternoons a week. Then there is the Music, Drama, Art and extensive Extra-Curricular provision offering children the most beguiling palette of opportunities and experiences to choose from” says Headmaster, Phillip Evitt.

There is no ferrying children around to various sports clubs and playdates; everything, including a swimming pool and tennis courts, is readily available on the 175 acre grounds. Highfield say this more relaxed and nurturing experience without the limits of the school day, gives their pupils the space and opportunity to grow, explore new interests, and become the best that they can be, without the need to resort to potentially damaging hothousing.

Academically, the school prepares students for scholarship and common entrance exams to the best senior schools, working with parents to help them select the right school and ensuring children have the best fit in terms of personality and abilities.

“We are very proud of our 100% success rate in securing every child’s place at their first choice Senior School and the number of scholarships our pupils receive” Phillip continues, “but most importantly, they leave us full of enthusiasm and self-confidence, as happy and well-rounded individuals who are more than ready to tackle the next stage of their learning journeys.”


For London parents interested in exploring the country boarding option for their children, Highfield is hosting a drinks reception and information evening on Wednesday 9th March, in Central London. For more information click here.

Highfield School, Hampshire, is a charming country Prep School set in sumptuous 175 acre grounds in Liphook, on the Hampshire/Surrey/Sussex borders. Together with its Pre-Prep and Nursery School, Brookham, they provide outstanding all round education for boys and girls ages 3 – 13. Their exceptional academic tradition and distinguished scholarship success is based on exciting, first-rate teaching, reinforced by a broad and stimulating curriculum meaning pupils leave Highfield as self-confident, self-reliant and well prepared individuals. Above all, Highfield is a fun and exciting place to be, with so much going on and so much to do, no matter what your children’s interests. For more information on boarding at Highfield click here.

Pictures courtesy of Highfield & Brookham