Planning baby’s schooling from the womb

Competition for school places is so fierce parents are starting the search before birth

Educational consultant Gabbitas fills us in on the new phenomenon of planning your child’s education before they’re even born

The last thing that pops into your mind when you get that positive pregnancy test is: what nursery or school should I send my child to? But competition for schools – and increasingly for nurseries, too – has become so fierce in London that parents are resorting to planning their child’s school career before they have even been born. If it seems crazy, it’s not.
The early bird catches the worm.

Catherine Kelsey, who leads the schools placement team at Gabbitas Education, says, “Competition for nursery places is tight. The momentum seems to be for children to join the more structured environment of a nursery school rather than go to a church hall and do some painting, singing and messing about in the sandpit, as in the past.”

It’s never too soon to start your child on the right trajectory, says Kelsey.

“Increasingly ambitious parents like to put their child into a ‘good’ nursery school because this will ensure a good pre-prep school, followed by a favoured prep school and an excellent school at 13-plus, followed by acceptance into a demanding university.”

This creates a heated market for places.

“The more competitive the school environment becomes, which is especially pertinent in London, it has a knock-on effect all the way down to nursery schools. Historically, some parents would have preferred to keep their children at home until the start of school age at four, with the occasional visit to a playgroup or nursery for a few afternoons. But now the pressure to gain a good place for your child means that parents feel obliged to join the nursery school race.”

This domino effect, along with the large number of international parents in London, has resulted in many more applicants to nursery schools. And the pick of the bunch are seriously oversubscribed, often sending parents into a flat spin.

“The more prestigious nurseries are able to pick and choose their intake as demand is so high,” says Kelsey.

“This causes parents to become very anxious even before their children are born and they are ready with registration forms completed immediately after the birth, not just for nurseries, but pre-preps and prep schools, too.”

Michael and Jonna with their baby

Case study one couple explains why hiring a specialist company was the right choice

Michael and Jonna Scherb are organised about everything they do – even deciding their unborn child’s future. Michael, who is the founder of a private equity firm, wanted to avoid the distraction of school searches he had seen friends go through. Jonna, who runs a luxury bespoke jewellery design business, didn’t want the pressure – and possible disappointment – of trying to secure a good school place.

The couple decided they needed support in navigating the choices. “I’m half-Austrian and half-Singaporean. I was born in Taiwan and grew up in the US and Germany, while Jonna is from Finland,” says Michael. “So, with little understanding of the British private school system and busy lives, we wanted to find a company with the best experience, reputation and quality service that we could really trust.”

They interviewed three education consultants when Jonna was seven months pregnant and chose Gabbitas after meeting the head of the schools placement team, Catherine Kelsey. “I have a creative background while Michael is more business focused, so it was a challenge to find the right solutions to match all our values,” says Jonna. “But Catherine did it. She was very pro-active, got to know us very quickly and really drove the process forward with good planning and by taking the  initiative, so we were always on the front foot.”

Kelsey, who has three children who attended prestigious independent boarding schools and 20 years’ experience in the industry, says: “Getting a place at the best schools for your child is often stressful. My advice is to start as early as possible. This was the first time I had helped a child who wasn’t even born, but I’m sure this will become more usual as there is increasing competition – especially from abroad – to secure limited places in the most prestigious British schools.”