The shortlist for School of the Year at the Spear’s Awards 2023, sponsored for the second consecutive year by Thuso Group, included a number of the UK’s leading public schools, including Benenden, Brighton College, Charterhouse, Sevenoaks School, and Wycombe Abbey. Notably, there were also a number of British schools overseas, including Dulwich College (Singapore), Pembroke House (Kenya), and the winner of this year’s award, the British School of Brussels.
This highlights the continued value placed on traditional British education by international families, as well as the varied nature of ‘British’ schooling overseas. Dulwich College (Singapore) forms part of a wider pattern of ‘branded’ British schools overseas, ranging from Harrow International School Hong Kong, North London Collegiate Jeju, and Repton Dubai, to Marlborough College Malaysia, and Wycombe Abbey International School of Changzhou.
The British School of Brussels (established in 1970) forms part of a wider set of strong British schools established in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, distinguished from more generic ‘international’ schools by their focus on traditional British schooling, with their standing marked by membership of The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a network of leading independent schools in the UK (where many commentators consider this to be the mark of a traditional ‘public school’), and in some instances, internationally.
Broader examples include Dubai College (established in 1978), The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi (established in 1968), St George’s British International School in Rome (established in 1958), and King’s College, Madrid (founded in 1969). These schools have established strong reputations as leading schools in the cities in which they operate, and a demonstrable track-record of supporting successful applications to leading universities in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
The inclusion of Pembroke House in the final shortlist for the award, however, highlights that ‘British’ education overseas is not a new occurrence. Established in 1927, and sitting in 140 acres of grounds in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, this traditional preparatory school has been preparing children for entry to Britain’s leading public schools (as well as leading schools in Kenya and South Africa) for almost 100 years.
This forms part of a wider tradition of such schools internationally, ranging from Michaelhouse, Hilton, and Bishops, in South Africa, to Doon, Mayo College, and Bishop Cotton in India, as well as institutions such as Geelong Grammar (attended by King Charles III for two terms, and also the alma mater of Rupert Murdoch), in Australia.
Increasingly, Pembroke House, and other institutions like it, have garnered attention for their role as custodians of traditional schooling at a time when concerns have been raised (as noted by Spear’s in relation to recent controversy surrounding Simon Henderson’s tenure at Eton, and the implications of the recent appointment of Sir Nicholas Coleridge as Provost there) over the extent to which the ethos and standing of schools in the UK are being eroded.
The school has drawn praise from Aidan Hartley and Toby Young of The Spectator, and the Daily Telegraph described it thus: ‘A school with Latin and cricket on the curriculum, whose products routinely go on to Eton and Harrow. A school such as Ludgrove, the Dragon or any one of a score of similar establishments dotted around the Home Counties. Except that it’s not quite like any of them. The grounds are full of snakes and tarantulas, which the boys keep as pets. Leopards lie up in the trees nearby and elephants have been known to cross the cricket pitch. A hippo recently walked up the drive. We’re nowhere near Eton or Harrow here. We’re thousands of miles away, in Kenya, at Pembroke House school in the Great Rift Valley.’
Such schools increasingly attract pupils not only from close by, but from international families around the world, and are of particular interest to families seeking quality education in a distinct environment.
The updated Spear’s School Index, to be released in 2024, has been developed with support and expert guidance from the team at Thuso Group, which comprises a group of businesses advising on Education, Philanthropy, and Investment in these sectors, as well as in emerging markets. The Thuso Group team has worked with Spear’s to convene an expert advisory panel drawn from leading educationalists internationally, reflects the growing demand for both traditional schooling and innovative approaches by international families. The Spear’s School Index will continue to serve as a key resource for those advising family offices, or HNW individuals directly, as well as those seeking insights into leading schools when working overseas, on diplomatic postings, or when investing in emerging markets (particularly for those seeking to acquire, or establish, leading schools internationally).