‘Education in London is education for life’

Posted on 17th Jun 2015 in Which London School?

Going to school in London is one of the best preparations for life. The talent and diversity around us, and the buzz and excitement of this great City are second to none. They add immeasurably to the educational experience.

City of London School is situated next to the Millennium Bridge, right in the heart of the City of London, and on the edge of the River Thames. St Paul’s Cathedral sits above us, in amongst some of the world’s most successful businesses, and leading educational, political and cultural organisations. The whole environment is dynamic and thought provoking. People of all ages and dispositions travel miles to sample what for us is an every-day experience.

When I asked one of our senior pupils what he liked best about the School, he waved an airy hand in the direction of the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern. “That”, he said. “Where else in the world would you have so much on your doorstep?” We take our younger pupils to the National Gallery, the Supreme Court, the Museum of Surgery, the Bank of England, theatres and concert halls, to Dr Johnson’s House, the Clink Prison Museum, and the Headquarters of the Salvation Army, amongst other places, and we are not alone in this. Speakers of all sorts are available to talk to pupils on an enviable range of subjects. Boys have enjoyed listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, the Bishop of London, the Director General of the BBC, politicians, artists, authors, and scientists, experts in finance, the law, architecture, engineering, and so on. Some of the most distinguished universities in the country are on our doorstep, offering public lecture series which stretch and challenge on any subject you could wish for, enriching still further the academic experience our schools can offer. There is something for everyone in London, promoting an atmosphere of cultural awareness and delight in learning, which few other places could rival. Although some boys move away from London for their university careers, it is significant that many others choose to remain here, in a world they have learned to navigate with confidence and to appreciate for its extraordinary richness.

London is a melting pot of different social and cultural groups. The population is never static with communities and families from all over the world, drawn to the city because of the opportunities it presents. In my School we celebrate the diversity of our pupil body, learning from and respecting people of very different backgrounds and approaches to life. Growing up in such an environment is a privilege few can boast. There is no sense of entitlement. People are judged for who they are and what they can do, the ebb and flow of family fortunes and cultural histories giving an edge to individual enterprise, and placing a premium on hard work and individual ambition as key to success.

The River Thames itself, running at high tide outside my window as I write, is magnificently evocative of all that London holds. Its history is written in the many excavations and museums along its bank, and in the remnants of old London which still stand amongst the high-rise blocks, red buses and taxi cabs. It is itself a reminder of an ancient past which pre-dates our financial institutions and our Government. It represents the forces of nature which retain a powerful life of their own, despite the concrete and stone of the surrounding city. For me, it symbolises the energy and opportunity of London. It is alive and restless, harnessed but never tamed, flowing out into the sea which links us with the wider world and all the excitement that it contains.

London schools are many and varied; single sex and co-educational, Cathedral schools, schools with religious foundations, non-denominational schools, schools with high academic expectations, or those with a wider catchment, schools in semi-rural settings and those, like mine, right in the heart of the urban landscape. Transport is rarely a problem as bus routes, trains and underground networks connect most communities with ease, bringing pupils from quite distant homes right into the City with a speed and efficiency that can surpass the experience of those who live, as the crow flies, considerably closer. The commute, which for many adults can appear to be an obstacle, is often a very positive experience. It gives the pupils the opportunity to develop the independence which teenagers relish, while retaining the safety of travelling in with friends and along known routes. It removes the inflexibility of school buses and liberates the timing of after-school clubs and rehearsals. It also frees parents from worry about transport arrangements and allows them to organise their own lives with the greatest flexibility.

Choosing a school for your children is one of the most important things you as a parent will do. You need to take the time to visit all those you think of as possibilities, listening to the presentations and absorbing the atmosphere on your tours. My advice is to talk closely to the pupils currently enrolled in the school. Their attitude to life and assessment of their experiences day-to-day, will tell you all you really need to know and will give you a clear idea of whether the ethos, opportunities and level of ambition are right for you. Variety can be daunting but it also a wonderful advantage of London life. You may not succeed in getting your first choice school as competition for places can be intense, but the quality of education here is second to none and each school comes with its own particular strengths and character. Happy hunting!