Trust and you will find

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The past year has seen the rise of The Three Marketeers: Covid, Consultancies and Conundrums. Tim Hands, Headmaster of Winchester, reflects on choosing schools in the new normal.

My school recently announced that it would be taking girls into its Sixth Form, an announcement which has set brains a-thinking and tongues a-wagging in far off London town. Suddenly, I am talking to a new kind of parent in a new kind of era, wrenched from the city of King Alfred, lawgiver and cake burner, to the metropolis of mighty Boris. To one audience one might almost be able still to speak Anglo-Saxon or Norman French; the other audience requires the varied dialects and invigoratingly diverse approaches of the new and increasingly global cosmopolis. It’s exciting, certainly; but it’s different. Three things make it so: Covid, consultancies, and enduring anxiety over the age-old conundrums.

Covid has led to a completely different, digitised world of school marketing. We might call it parallel marketing, for it is in parallel to the real school, virtual not genuine, and it is a growing phenomenon. Every school has needed to adapt with alacrity to a newly digitised world, to find different ways of presenting the 'authentic' experience. Closed Mornings have replaced Open Mornings. What the parent sees is not the reality but the desired representation of it, and thus someone extra is needed to advise on the mirage.

Enter consultancies. Consultancies are a relatively new but fast-growing form of the parallel market. Covid has positioned them in clover. Consultancies offer choices, scholarly literature, glossies. They proffer advice on everything from nursery cradle to university post doctorate. They will supply coaching, boosters, mocks, tutoring, revision courses, personal statements. They will persuade you that they have inside knowledge like nobody else, and they will meet your needs wherever you may be, Los Angeles or Lisbon, Llandudno or Lowestoft, though offices will most probably be located in a smart part of London.

Dr Tim Hands, a former Chairman of HMC, is Headmaster of Winchester College.