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A well-heeled prophet

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 October 2017, 10.37am

When you sit on top of the pile, you can at last speak the truth.

On the way up, you mind your back, seek to please, play the game, keep your head down, cover your back, collude with the dysfunction, avert your eyes from the appalling.

But once at the summit – should you make it - you dare speak all the things you didn’t dare on the climb.

And so it is that Simon Henderson, headmaster of Eton, has recently spoken some simple truth.

And because truth is so rare in organisations, I couldn’t help but enjoy.

He was speaking at a conference in Knightsbridge. (Where else?) And warning parents against being deceived by the slick marketing machines used by private schools.

Mr Henderson, who took over as headmaster at the £38,000-a-year boarding school in 2015, told parents that ‘the worse the school, the glossier the brochure.’

Yep – that definitely rings bells, way beyond the world of education.

He also warned parents to be wary of schools that boast of their ‘unique selling point’.

Ah, the USP! Let us kneel for a moment in worship…

But not Mr Henderson.

‘Quite often schools pretend that something that they are doing is unique,’ he said, ‘when actually lots of other good schools are doing the same thing.’

Really? Surely not?? 

‘I would beware of the very slick marketing. In my experience there is an inverse proportion between how glossy the brochure is and how good the school is. Do be aware of the very slick marketing machine.’

As I say, it is easy to speak the truth from the top of the pile.

I don’t actually imagine he needs to do much marketing at Eton.

It’s the most famous school in the world, founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, and responsible for the education of 19 British prime ministers.

If your child isn’t registered with them at least three years before conception, then forget about it.

But I still enjoy the truth in his mouth, as he politely debunks so much insecure marketing bullshit.

Advising parents on how to choose a school for their children, he says:

‘Beware of the schools that say they are unique. Most good schools believe fundamentally in the same things.

They want young people to be happy and safe, they want them to do well academically, they believe in a broad education, they want to develop character and attitude that will help them succeed in the outside world.

‘There is nothing particularly unique about that.’

A (well-heeled) prophet has spoken…


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