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The lure of leafy London’s hidden ‘village schools’

Melanie Butler looks beyond the better-known districts in the centre of the capital to the jewels scattered around its edges


There are 28 EL Gazette Centres of Excellence in London – that is over a quarter of all the 108 British-Council-accredited providers in the capital. By comparison there are three in Edinburgh, two in Manchester and only one in Bournemouth, albeit the almost unbeatable Beet.

The top school in London, Wimbledon School of English, goes one better – fifteen points out of a possible fifteen, the first school in the UK to receive that score. Wimbledon typifies many of the great London schools: it is long-established – fifty years old this year – and located in one of the leafy ‘London villages’ beloved of the British haute bourgeoisie. They boast beautiful parks, original shops, friendly cafes and some of the best host families anywhere.

The model for the ‘village school’ is the London School of English, set up over 100 years ago in Holland Park, an elite enclave close to central London, with a second centre in Chiswick, the jewel of west London. The villages are also home to Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College and Barnet Southgate College, the top-ranking London FE language centres. Other top village schools are Excel English in genteel Muswell Hill, St Giles in Highgate and the Hampstead School of English. Those looking for a more student feel can head for TTI in Camden, the deeply cool inner London borough.

Inner London boasts the flagship schools of many of the big chains – both International House and Bell have Centres of Excellence in the capital as do EF, Embassy CES and Kaplan. And of course there’s St Giles Central, one of this year’s fastest climbers in our rankings.

London also has the highest concentration of top-hundred world universities anywhere and, unsurprisingly perhaps, five out of the eight BC-accredited universities in the capital are Centres of Excellence. Three of them are part of the London University: UCL, King’s and Queen Mary’s. The other two are University of the Arts and Brunel University.

But isn’t London just too expensive? The short answer is no. Our most recent survey of London prices shows a median score of £14.30 an hour for a four-week course – lower than Brighton and about the same as Bournemouth. Those heading for the London villages can expect to pay less – around £13.50 – while the centre costs around £16.

For longer-stay students the hourly rates drop dramatically and come into line with fees in other major cities including New York, Paris and Tokyo. Indeed, if you look outside the top 10 per cent of schools – or at state further education – you can get rates close to those in Beijing.

And one thing in London is definitely cheap – host-family accommodation. Using the ATP Kearney Global City index, we checked out prices in all the top-ten world cities. At around £200 a week in the centre – and less in the villages – London host family rates are roughly half those in New York and Paris and cheaper than those in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore. Tokyo simply doesn’t have host families in the centre, and in Chicago we couldn’t find any schools with host families – they were all on campus. Los Angeles does have families at around London prices – but not in the centre, and you have to factor in the cost of hiring a car. In London, of course, you have to allow for transport costs – the highest of all the global cities at around £40 a week – but that still brings the total well below the world city average.

Student halls of residence are also a little cheaper in London. In fact, a three-month course with a host family or in a student residence will cost you about the same in London as in Madrid – and London has 200 free museums and galleries and a much lower rate of violent crime.