Let’s talk education.
The Escape Artist went to Eton, the school that has educated more Prime Ministers and heads of state than any other school in Britain.
And, when I say I went there, I mean that outside term time, the school is open to visitors so The Escape Artist paid a few quid to take a look around.
I was curious to see whether I could learn anything from the school without paying £37,000 per child, per year (£70k pre tax income for higher rate taxpayers) to send my 3 kids there?
So I’ve studied the pros and cons of an Eton education.
Is The Escape Artist going to share these lessons with you? Is the Pope catholic? Of course he is!
So here’s the thing: you don’t need to spend all that money to raise children that turn out healthy, happy and rich.
The Escape Artist has noticed that people want the best for their children. This is natural and a wonderful thing. But sadly, for some high performing people, wanting the best for their child can turn into Dr Evil’s Mini-Me Syndrome. This is just one of Dr Evil’s Money Mindset Mistakes.
Dr Evil’s Mini-Me Syndrome starts off harmlessly enough. You want you child to achieve the same success that you’ve achieved…or more. You want them to look similar, dress similar and move in similar social circles to you.
You want to give them the best start in life, the best education and help them
destroy take their place in the world.
This is all well and good but private education does not come cheap. Given the cost, we should take a long, hard look at why people choose private education. Here are some of the most common reasons given:
- Exam success
- Future earnings
- Cold showers
- Games and exercise
- Dormitory life
- Social skills
Eton College was founded in 1440. Back then, private schools were the only schools. Knowledge and information (books) were rare, precious and expensive.
Then the printing press was invented and books became cheaper and cheaper…to the point where they are now free (libraries) or essentially free (used on Amazon).
Reading the right books is the ultimate lifehack. You can get more value from reading and internalising a short list of life changing books than you can from any school or college course. The greatest gift you can give your child is reading to them when they are younger.
Now we have the internet and so the best education is now available to everyone who can read and wants to learn (this is now the limiting factor)…and its free. For examples, check out The Khan Academy or this list of 1,200 free courses from top universities.
As far as I can see, the standard of teaching in state schools has improved significantly since the 1970s when The Escape Artist went to a state comprehensive school.
If you think standards are lax now, you should have seen Britain in the 1970s. Honestly, everything was shite. The cars, the food, the customer service, the internet. Everything.
Its true that, on average, teachers in the private sector get paid better than teachers in the state sector. And its possible (although not certain) that translates into better teaching in the private sector.
But your child doesn’t get taught by a national average. They get taught by an actual person. And if a poor teacher is teaching your child in a state school, you can go and see the head teacher. Don’t be intimidated. If you don’t get what you want, you can escalate until you get an appropriate response.
And if necessary, you can always hire a tutor for some extra support in a subject. There is nothing to stop you buying in extra help on a flexible basis by getting a tutor in. You can download your private education from the cloud in small, targeted doses.
3) Exam success
You can make a case that private schools get better exam results and that exam results are a filter for entry into better paid professions. But this argument is simplistic and over-played. Correlation is not causation.
Private schools have a huge advantage in terms of their intake. Everyone sending their children to private school values the service highly enough to pay for it.
Compare and contrast with the small but troublesome minority of parents of state school children that don’t value education and complain when Jamie Oliver improves the food being fed to their children. Where parental support for hard work is higher, children get better exam results…in state schools or private schools.
If you want a free school full of kids with other ambitious parents, move into the catchment area of a good state school. This is not cheating, its playing.
4) Future earnings
50 years ago there was an old boys network that would ensure that your child got a job for life after a private school education. That happened but it’s now gone.
In the City, The Escape Artist saw the last of these dinosaurs go extinct as British merchant banks got bought up by foreigners who felt (not unreasonably) that people should actually work hard and deliver results for their bonus rather than just have gone to the right school.
I hired quite a few bright young people during my finance career. There was never a shortage of exam factory product. So good exam results were never what swung my final decision. I looked for people with unusual drive and motivation.
Even if private school education did provide an advantage in getting top jobs, what about the opportunity cost of what you could do with the school fees? Remember the example of Kate where putting £15k into a pension by 25 had turned into £1m by 65?
5) Games and exercise
Apparently, the Duke of Wellington said “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”.
Private schools have a long and successful tradition of using sports to provide the children with essential qualities such as resilience, perseverance, self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification.
Fortunately these are all available to you for next to nothing by introducing your child either to rugby, football, cricket etc or to Karate classes or just simply getting them outdoors more, off the playstation and onto a bike.
6) Cold showers
One of the benefits of an elite private school education is said to be that it “builds character” based on games or long cross country runs followed by cold showers. This is stoicism: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
If you want your child to experience cold showers, The Escape Artist suggests that there is an cheaper way than sending your child to Eton. Just turn off your boiler or immersion heater. You’ll save pennies on the shower and a couple of hundred grand on school fees.
Another element of the elite British education was simple food: meat and boiled vegetables. If you get raised on simple, natural food, you do not get obese, you do not get a slow metabolism, big bones nor Type 2 diabetes.
Compare and contrast with today’s kids raised on junk food, processed carbohydrate and pop tarts. Lets hope we don’t have to rely on them for the modern equivalent of The Battle of Waterloo or storming the D Day beaches.
Here’s the good news, if you want your child to experience simple, natural food, then there’s no need to send them to Eton. Just send them to Tesco Express to get some broccoli…its much cheaper.
8) Dormitory life
If you’ve never seen the film Chariots of Fire, go watch it now.
The film makes the link between the ethos of British public (translation: private!) schools and eventual Olympic success. The film shows the esprit de corps generated by living in spartan shared dormitories, the lack of soft furnishings, the bracing runs on the beach on overcast days.
Its odd that British culture can celebrate the benefits of these spartan conditions… and then turn around and quickly forget the benefits of hardening the fuck up.
Most people’s biggest financial commitment is buying a house. How many people add years to their time in The Prison Camp because they want their children to have their own bedrooms rather than share a room?
Could all this extra housing cost, stress and effort be pointless?
9) Social skills
Another reason that many people send their child to private school is the social skills that it is said to give you. As someone that was not over-burdened with social skills in their early years, The Escape Artist does not discount this.
But you (or your child later on) can get the best social skills training in the world by working as a barman, smiling a bit more 🙂 and reading How To Win Friends and Influence People. Total cost: less than zero (you get paid to work a bar).
So if you want a masterclass in social skills, you don’t need to go to Eton. You could start by listening to this podcast.
Children learn from role models and they watch what you do. So if you are good at this stuff, your children absorb much of it unconsciously.
If The Escape Artist had a bigger freedom fund, I admit it would have been tempting to spend money on something reassuringly expensive like private education for my kids.
And if I’d wanted my children to be Prime Minister, then I probably should have sent them to Eton. But do I really want them to be Prime Minister? Errr, no. The clients (voters) are ungrateful as hell and the salary is lousy given the stress involved. Have you ever seen those before and after pictures for Presidents and Prime Ministers? After 5+ years in the job, they look like shit.
Private education also often comes with a hidden cost. There is no shortage of parents that are highly stressed and anxious, having borrowed money to fund private education. This is a violation of the rule: Apply Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others.
Private education is the downfall of many people’s financial independence. Firstly, its expensive and secondly, its like a ratchet. Once one of your babies is enrolled, you’ll probably feel obliged to treat all the others equally at ruinous cost. So the decision of state education vs private education will be a big fork in the road.
You needn’t worry, The Escape Artist will not be banning private schools. Its your money, your choice. And if you are loaded and can afford to send your brood to private schools without impacting your decision to work or not, then fine, good for you.
But, for most middle class people, choosing private education is like detonating a grenade under your freedom fund. For my money, I just don’t think the benefits match the costs.
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