Is education a global commodity?
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Is education a global commodity?

Now that we all live in a global village, we have got used to doing our shopping in whichever market stall sets out the best product. So you might buy your car from Germany, your watch from Switzerland, your wine from France and your laptop from Japan. You can do the research, and often the actual purchasing, from the comfort of your armchair in New York, Tampa or Arkansas. But there are some things we don’t always think of buying globally – even when quality and integrity are most important.

For example, education.

What is more important to all of us as parents than the well being, the happiness, the mental and physical growth and the future success of our child? And yet few of us look around our own country, let alone the rest of the world, for the best possible fit for our son or daughter – the school where he or she will flourish and grow into the best adult that they can be.

British boarding schools, where children live as well as study during the semester, have well over a thousand years of history – plenty of time to get it right. Yes, you read that correctly. The King’s School, Canterbury, is generally considered to be the world’s oldest boarding school, having been founded in 597AD. And Winchester College and Oswestry School were started in 1382 and 1407 respectively – the oldest boarding schools in the world in continual operation.

So boarding schools have been the choice of British parents for centuries. They became particularly popular during the days of the British Empire when British children from all over the world were sent back to the UK for their schooling, but even now far more British than American children attend boarding schools. The reason remains broadly the same – a belief that a boarding school education can enable children to develop wider horizons than their family life alone can provide. As well as learning from teachers who are passionate about their subjects and living in fabulous surroundings, children have access every day, evening and weekend to amazing facilities – from world class swimming pools and hockey pitches to wonderful theatres for drama and debating and amazing art rooms and design technology suites. The huge variety of activities offered in British boarding schools means that your child is never pigeonholed.

But what is different today is that the top quality and particular culture of a British boarding school education is now available to all. Last year, in addition to 488,000 British children studying in these schools, over 24,000 of the children came from other countries (ISC census 2014). From the US and Australia, from Russia and China, from France, Italy, Germany and Japan – you name it, the discerning parents of the world are now looking to buy the best. In my school, we have children from 44 different countries as well as from the UK.

The British education system is world class and that is one reason why the UK punches so far above its weight. A tiny country in world terms, Britain nevertheless has a staggering four of the six top universities in the world (QS World University Rankings) and its boarding schools include Eton, Harrow, Westminster School, Cheltenham Ladies College, Brighton College and of course my own school, Taunton School.

You may have heard of some of these schools and I’m sure you’ve heard of Hogwarts. Children at school in the UK may not all get the chance to learn magic but they will still be having the adventure of a lifetime. More seriously, leaving school with internationally recognised qualifications will enable them to go to university in any country in the world, with a headstart over their American peers in terms of what they can write on their personal statement and a real understanding of the wide world out there including how to get on with other people from all over the world – a massive advantage in tomorrow’s world of work.

The support that a system with, on average, 9 students to every teacher can give your child is amazing. The pastoral care is second to none and the atmosphere of calm respect which you can feel as you walk through the door results in a sense of responsibility and duty which will serve your son or daughter well for their whole adult life as a future citizen of the US.

But also as a future citizen of the world. And in my view that is what is most important. In a British boarding school, your child will gain a fabulous network of friends and future colleagues from all over the world. It is those children who will one day be the decision makers in that global village.