‘Cash for places’ A view from the front line - Rory Reilly

 

(written in response to articles in The Daily Telegraph Saturday 10 December 2016)

 

When I set up Fairfield Education it was partly in response to having dealt with various “agents” and “so-called education consultancies” (Daily Telegraph Saturday 10th December) in my former role as School Registrar, and partly because I felt I could offer something useful to families trying to wade through the complexity of the wildly different admissions processes of the UK’s top Independent boarding schools.

Today’s revelations in the Telegraph are not new to me and rumours of the huge sums mentioned have been swirling around for years.  It is a murky business and one where I believe certain “agents” have conned parents into believing that they could buy their way into particular schools.  I am also absolutely sure that it has happened and that schools have been happy to take the cash, but I am also sure that the agents have also been the ones to benefit.  In many cases I suspect the schools have not engaged but if the pupil in question does gain a place through fair rather than foul means, then both agent and school do rather well out of the deal.

What has not been touched on in today’s paper is the business of schools paying commission to agents.  This is quite normal practice and the industry standard for commissionis approximately 10% of the first year’s school fees or £3,000+.  As an Educational Consultant I feel that this could compromise the whole process.  Just this summer I had to explain to a Chinese client who had been “advised” by another “consultant” that the commission the agent was likely to get from one of the favoured schools was more than my total fee.  His son was capable of gaining a place at a top-ranked school but he was being advised to place him at one which paid the highest commission.

My view has always been that agents are entitled to commission as long as they are clear on how that works and as long as both the school and the client are fully aware.  At Fairfield we prefer not to charge or accept commission, and to make clear to both client and school that we will work only in the best interests of the child.  So are there “rich pickings for agents in school place hunt”?  Undoubtably there are instances where clients pay very large sums for an inferior service.  Just because “consultants” have attended these schools or have built a network of contacts in the city or indeed in the schools, it does not make them experts in the field of education.  There are some really good professionals in the world of educational consultancy but how to distinguish them from the “sharks” is what is so difficult.  We do have wealthy clients but we also have clients who need bursaries and who cannot afford the normal boarding fees.  Our whole business model is based on trust - between us and the schools and between us and the client.  Trust is fragile.  It is built over many years but it can be destroyed all too quickly.

Rory I Reilly  Fairfield Education