The great independent Catholic schools of England have increasingly been caught up in the same ‘prospectus war’ as the rest of the private sector. Twenty years ago, there were dozens of Catholic boarding schools for boys in the UK. Now only one remains, in Reading, with the nearest competition on the continent at Chavagnes International College.
As boys’ schools become coeducational, effectively thereby declaring war on the surviving girls’ schools, the whole sector is becoming necessarily much more geared to the market. In itself, this is no bad thing; but it does depend on what one is selling.
In education, it is surely a pity when children choose their schools by virtue of which prospectus boasts the most luxurious accommodation and 5-star facilities. The knock-on effect this has on school fees is having a dramatic impact on the intake of these schools. Traditional supprters of private education now find themselves priced out of the market.
Most of the old boarding schools are now dependent on overseas students and those whose fees are paid by the parents’ employers. There is less and less of a sense in which these schools are serving a particular community.
In the case of the Catholic schools, this is a great shame. It has meant that the numbers of non-Catholics in these schools increases from a purely market-driven motive. As this happens, so the Catholic ethos of many of these schools, more talked about than ever before in their prospectuses, in fact diminishes year by year.
It is a pity, because the independent sector resisted the secularisation of eduation for a long time. Catholic private schools were beacons in the defence of Christian faith (not just Christian values) throughout the 1980s, but now risk going down the same road of compromise as their maintaned sector counterparts.
The current difficult financial climate is already beginning to hit many private schools as parents fall behind with fees and begin to consider other alternatives. What is the solution? For parents looking for day schools, on the grammar school model, Chris Woodhead’s Cognita schools are one honest way out of the ridiculous situation of spiralling fees.
For those looking for a solid Catholic education, inspired by the public school and grammar school tradition, and with boarding too, Chavagnes International College, in western France, could be the answer. Just as Catholics did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the political climate in England made Catholic education impossible, perhaps the next few years will see a minor Ryanair exodus to Nantes in the Catholic community as parents search for a way to provide a private education for their children without endangering their family’s financial stability.
School fees at leading private boarding schools in the UK are in the 20-25,000 pounds price range. Chavagnes fees start at 14,000 Euros; about 13,000 pounds. Bursaries and scholarships are available too, meaning that parents can often look at a saving of 50%, even taking into account transport costs.
With a convenient daily service from Stansed to Nantes, Chavagnes is nearer to home for families from the south – in terms of time – than one or two of two of its competitors north of the Watford gap.
For more information, visit www.chavagnes.org