A school like no other
Old Blue Jon McLeod explains why he is happy to pay his children’s full school fees when so many others at Christ’s Hospital are receiving financial support…
The author Leigh Hunt observed of Christ’s Hospital: ‘Perhaps there is not a foundation in the country so truly English…something solid, unpretending, and free to all’.
Alongside poet Coleridge and Barnes Wallis of the bouncing bomb fame, Leigh Hunt was an ‘Old Blue’, a former pupil of Christ’s Hospital (or CH for short) who benefitted, first hand from its tradition of supporting talented pupils who would not otherwise have access to the best boarding school education.
I was a beneficiary of this generosity myself; entering the school in the ‘70s. My mother, a secretary and my father, a civilian RAF employee could never have afforded private education, but when my mum saw a notice in the Daily Telegraph inviting applications to Christ’s Hospital, there was no holding her back. My brother went first, then me.
Seven years late I left with an Exhibition to King’s College Cambridge, a collection of friends with whom I remain in touch and, thanks to the famous school band, a way with a trumpet that still comes in handy today. Trumpet aside, I have had a long career in public affairs and am now chairman of Weber Shandwick, an internationally successful communications firm. You could say that CH had set me on my way.
When you leave Christ’s Hospital you are ‘charged never to forget the great benefits you have received in this place’ and like many Old Blues, I took these words to heart, becoming a donation governor, helping to finance a Christ’s Hospital education for a child whose parents would not otherwise be able to afford it.
It was a foregone conclusion that our children would go to CH, but thanks in part, to the opportunities I had enjoyed, I was able to pay the full fees. We would be in a minority.
As one of the original engines of social mobility, Christ’s Hospital provides an enormous number of bursaries and scholarships to its pupils. Fourteen per cent of pupils pay no fees at all; 40 per cent pay under £1,000 per term and nearly 80 per cent play less than 50 per cent of full fees. CH alone provides over a quarter of all the bursaries and scholarships in the entire UK private education sector.
Some might ask, why did we send our children to a school where most people are paying less than us, when we could as easily have sent our sons to Eton? Choosing a school for one’s children is a deeply personal thing, involving heart-searching about one’s own motivations and beliefs, but we found many reasons, including my own positive experience.
CH has changed; it’s now co-ed but it’s still unique with its Tudor uniform with the long blue coat (called a Housey) and yellow socks, its fantastic marching band that annually leads the Lord Mayor’s show and daily plays the pupils back to their lessons after lunch, a beautiful listed campus in the Sussex countryside; sporting brilliance – (England rugby international Joe Launchbury is a CH alumnus)’ commitment to the visual arts, theatre and cultural pursuits. And, of course, academic excellence; with outstanding results in 2014.
All that is important but what mattered most was its genuinely democratic and meritocratic ethos, its social mission, and its excellent education delivered to a socially-mixed intake who have won a place on their own merits and are proud of their scholarships and sponsorships.
The 800-odd pupils here don’t come from wealthy backgrounds but are motivated, hard-working and unpretentious and have their feet firmly planted in the real world. Pupils here do not take things for granted. ‘(They) have no…feeling of the difference of one another’s ranks… The cleverest boy is the noblest, let his father be who he might,’ wrote Leigh Hunt. And what parent, fee-paying or otherwise, doesn’t want that for a child?
This article first appeared in School House Magazine.