The High-Class Tutors Who Know How to Give Your Child an Educational Bonas; Lunches with the Headmaster, Privileged Information and Cressida's Well-Connected brother.Joshi Herrmann Reports on the Expensive Antidote to Private School 'Admissions Anxiety'
Byline: Joshi Herrmann
ON SATURDAY, nervous parents dropped off their six-year-old sons on the edge of Pimlico's Vincent Square, where the prestigious Westminster Under School was holding its all-important 7+ exams. Most of the parents had spent more than a year thinking about that moment, having registered for the prep school -- which is attached to nearby Westminster School -- as early as 2012 and by last autumn at the latest.
Across town, St Paul's, the academic powerhouse that taught George Osborne and regularly sends a third of its leavers to Oxford and Cambridge, will next Tuesday begin interviewing 10-year-olds who excelled in an online pre-test a few months ago and are hoping to join in 2016, subject of course to impressing the teachers in this interview and getting at least 70 per cent in their Common Entrance exams in two years' time.
It's enough to muddle and sink the heart of any parent -- and is making a new brand of private tutoring very lucrative indeed.
"Placement consultancy" is private tutoring for parents -- where well-connected agencies charge through the nose for their advice on how to get your child into the right school. High-end tutoring agencies say "admissions anxiety" among parents -- the result of unprecedented competition from foreign students and constantly changing admissions procedures, among other factors -- means "consulting" work is now a bigger part of their business than teaching. For parents who can afford it, the strategic advice can relieve the pressure of having to think about things like verbal reasoning tests, application-to-place ratios and which schools will require their child to sharpen up their French a year in advance. Inevitably, though, tutoring's growing "advisory" side causes unease. The headmaster of an elite west London prep school says he worries about what advice is being given to some of his charges, and regrets that schools are losing talented senior staff to agencies who can pay them more money for less work in the placement consulting game. 'We do much placing children schools we do tutoring' Charles "We do as much work placing children at schools and advising parents on their application strategy as we do actual tutoring," says Charles Bonas, 42, the aristocratic managing director of educational company Bonas Macfarlane (and half-brother of Prince Harry's girlfriend Cressida Bonas, who is said to be doing some tutoring for the company at the moment). Bonas employs a team of five full-time consultants for the work, and pays ex-headmasters as advisers to provide insider knowledge so that parents have the most useful information. In a breathtakingly comprehensive, nine-stage process, Bonas Macfarlane's placement consultants assess a child, produce a fully profiled shortlist of appropriate schools, carry out "school liaison", arrange special school visits, guide the child through entrance exams, give them interview practice, handle all the fiddly documentation involved with the admission process and then tutor the child in the areas where they need to improve.
as work at as actual Bonas "There are some consultants out here who will say, 'I can get your son into Eton or Westminster' and that is about connections, but we don't say that," says Bonas. But Bonas Macfarlane is able -- "in some instances", according to its website -- to "negotiate with schools for exams to be retaken". The website also offers to write "strong personal recommendations, which are highly respected by schools" and says that if a child is placed on a school waiting list, "we then do all we can to find movement within that list". The firm charges parents PS56-PS75 an hour.
"We are not saying for a moment that we have special access or backdoor ways," says Bonas. "We don't purport to be able to get kids through back doors or with secret handshakes, but there are a huge number of strategies at play with school admission now." He has just got off a plane from Kazakhstan, where his wife lives and the company has an office (it also has one in Dubai). …