Q&A: Investing in success

We talk to the principal of Carfax College in Oxford, Rupert Alesbury, about balancing tuition fees with future earning potential

Tell us a little about Carfax College and how the group works.

Carfax College is a small independent school in the centre of Oxford. It provides bespoke individual and small group tuition programmes in all regular school subjects, at all levels, and of any duration throughout the year. Carfax College offers one- and two-year courses in all GCSE and A-level subjects with full careers and UCAS guidance. Long-term and short revision courses are offered for main GCSE and A-level subjects, as well as those leading to other qualifications, such as pre-U or IB, our Easter revision courses being particularly popular. Carfax College also prepares pupils for entrance tests and examinations to selective schools and universities in the UK and abroad. Bespoke individual courses can be provided on request throughout the year. The college is part of the Carfax Education Group, which comprises a number of educational enterprises and institutions, each focused on bringing the best of British, American, and Swiss education to private and corporate clients around the world. 

School fees are rising. Has this resulted in a more price-conscious parent or higher price competition?

Independent education is becoming more results-driven and parents are prepared to pay high prices for the best results. From our own experience, many families are willing to invest in individual private tuition as a supplement to mainstream education and sometimes as an alternative to it. As all our courses are quoted for on an individual basis, there is a very high level of transparency in terms of the breakdown of costs between academic tuition, accommodation, meals and activities, and it may be the case in the future that all independent schools will need to adopt this approach rather than charging a single fee with the risk of ‘hidden’ extras. 

How can independent schools ensure they offer value for money/high standards?

In the independent sector as a whole parents are looking for a high level of professionalism and expect to see the results, and it could be argued that increasing levels of parental expectations are doing as much as anything to ensure that schools continue to offer high standards and value for money. In addition, all independent schools and tutorial colleges are subject to strict and thorough quality-control checks via the inspection process. Carfax College is therefore subject to the same judgement of the standard of educational provision as any large boarding school, and the market determines the price parents are prepared to pay for this quality of education. It could be argued that with our 1:1 individual attention we actually offer greater value for money than mainstream schools. 

Does the future earning potential of private school students outweigh the burden of fees?

Recent research findings would suggest so, but a private school education should be measured not just against future earnings but also against the kind of adult these schools help to produce. Unquantifiable factors such as personality and moral character are equally important returns on investment.

What advantages do the top universities offer?

Top universities generally offer better teaching, better pastoral care and greater individual attention – all of which are key features of a Carfax College education, which aims to bridge the gap between secondary and tertiary education. 

There have been reports of inequality in private and state school graduates’ earnings – should schools or employers do more to tackle this?

It is the job of all schools, whether private or state, to do the very best for all pupils in terms of teaching employability skills, regardless of their starting point. By this I mean that schools and colleges should be teaching pupils skills in leadership, teamwork, reliability, entrepreneurship, creativity and presentation. In turn, employers must judge each individual’s potential on merit, taking account of all contextual information, such as their personal and educational background. It is becoming increasingly the case that academic qualifications alone are no guarantee of success in an ever more competitive job market, and maybe one way forward to tackle perceived inequalities would be for more employers to become actively involved with careers education in schools and colleges. 

Rupert Alesbury is principal of Carfax College, Oxford W: www.carfax-oxford.com    

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