I worked as a career civil servant in Whitehall before moving into education consultancy. My opposite numbers at the Russian and Chinese embassies liked to speak with me about their children’s education, eager for advice on selecting schools, or universities. I’d sit in meetings thinking, “We’re supposed to be in a bilateral discussing UK/China science policy. But here I am explaining the British education system.” After a spell as head of a small private school run by the Lawn Tennis Association, I set up my own company.
Education consultancy combines a love of people, travel, languages with a desire to share my education expertise. A careers advisor may not have this as an obvious choice. I have to be a counsellor, psychologist, diplomat and problem-solver all rolled into one. There is also instinct involved. Where would the family be happiest, thrive and achieve their potential? People need to trust you.
Our clients often feel beleaguered, especially during the pandemic, and need help navigating UK and global education systems. It feels good that we are able to mitigate this stress. It is fascinating to see what drives another person, the life path they have chosen and what led them to this place – whether it be parental influence, inherited wealth or a childhood which may have been characterised by early hardship. Our experiences are primarily formed by the culture and political situation in which we and our nearest ancestors lived.
For instance, I have an enduring memory of a Russian client, now a dear friend, at the Lotte in Moscow saying ‘Johanna, what is it with you British? When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you just want to have a nice life and be happy. In Russia, we work hard in our 20s and 30s. And if we’re miserable, so what? But when we’re 40 and have achieved the pinnacle of financial success, only then can we relax and enjoy it.”
Covid-19 has changed our view of global mobility. Since my business is so international in flavour, working with families based from London, to New York to Azerbaijan, I’ve had to adapt. We have three distinct client groups: London-based families; families with homes in multiple jurisdictions; and those relocating to the UK for work or education. For the two latter groups, especially, we’ve overcome fresh challenges, negotiating changing travel corridors, specific visas and a combination of online university lectures, schooling and specialist tutors.
Despite the pandemic, British education is still in great demand, especially for families who are able to move easily to the UK. For instance, with US schools closed for a long period in 2020, we saw a rise in relocating US families. One family moved to Kensington prior to the US election, with their four young children. As one spouse worked from home as a stock trader, the family could live anywhere with reliable internet. London, with its top schools, was an attractive proposition. Another US couple have enrolled their daughter in a London school for a year, while they take time to enjoy the city and study for an MA in Art History at UCL.
With several families moving from Europe, we also trained one firm’s senior management team to recognise differences in British and French work culture. The company is delighted with their new employee, who keeps them well-stocked with French wines and cheese. Our next challenge is to support a group of families from Hong Kong who will be taking advantage of the British National (Overseas) visa to settle in the UK. They will access UK schools and universities for their children. Pastoral care and access to nature now feature highly on wish lists of relocating families.
I’ve been consistently impressed by how well the schools and universities with which we work have adapted to organisational and economic challenges. They have embraced EdTech and adjusted to offer an inclusive community – both in person and online – to combat the social isolation experienced by both students and their parents. Parents, more than ever, are looking for a high quality mix of one-to-one tutoring and school-based learning.
We are living with the largest disruption to the global education system in modern history. The pandemic has been a catalyst to education change in the UK. While we are not yet in a position to see exactly where the cards will fall, I am certain that schools and universities will continue to evolve to provide outstanding education opportunities for both UK and international students.