Boarding schools in rural Scotland have received a deluge of enquiries from American parents who want to send their children across the Atlantic to escape one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the developed world.
The country’s leading private schools have always relied on foreign students to fill places, with more than a third of boarders coming from overseas. Principals had feared being plunged into a financial crisis as a result of the pandemic, largely due to restrictions on international travel.
But senior figures in the sector have said there have been “positive signs” on admissions figures since the start of the new term, with numbers boosted in part by a surge of teenagers from the US.
America has not traditionally been a large market for Scottish private schools, due to high quality schools available there, with pupils more commonly coming from countries such as China, Germany and Hong Kong.
However, with Donald Trump facing intense criticism for his handling of the pandemic, private schools in Scotland have noted a significant spike in interest.
While case and death rates per head in the UK are also high by international standards, the US has seen 1,940 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 530 in the UK, according to analysis by John Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, in several US states schools remain closed or are open only on a part-time basis, while they have been open full time in Scotland for a month, increasing the appeal.
At Kilgraston in Perthshire, a small girls’ school which charges £36,240 per year to international pupils and has only around 70 boarding places, there are now five American pupils in its senior school - a record high.
“Traditionally, few pupils have come from the States to British boarding schools,” Dorothy MacGinty, the school’s Headmistress who has conducted several transatlantic Zoom calls with American parents over recent months, said. “However, during the last five months, we have begun to see a big difference in inquiry numbers.
“Parents, both those who have already signed up their children and those who have made provisional inquiries, have cited campus space, outdoor curriculum provision and the reported fluidity from in-class to online provision as deciding factors.”
She added: “Many American families have UK relatives and now see Scotland as a safe, central point from which to be based. Our country’s fresh air and capacious appeal is still a big draw.”
Pupils arriving from the US are taught remotely in their rooms for a fortnight, in line with quarantine rules, before joining in classes.
At Gordonstoun, Prince Charles’ old school near Elgin, its remote location had previously been seen as a barrier to attracting overseas students, due to its distance from major international airports.
However, since the onset of the pandemic, it has become a major selling point. A Facebook post, highlighting its isolated countryside setting and 200 acre woodland campus, has been viewed more than 500,000 times since June.
Lisa Kerr, the Gordonstoun principal, said: “We have seen a significant increase in the number of enquiries from the US and, as a result, more students joining us from the US than we would normally expect.
“We benefit from a 200 acre campus in an extremely rural location in Scotland which means it has been easier for us to find ways to observe social distancing whilst maintaining an exciting curriculum, and this has proved a draw for many students who can get back to school in a safe way. Following risk assessments, our programme of outdoor activities also continues with students going sailing and on expeditions. This has proved to be a welcome antidote to lockdown restrictions.”
A spokeswoman for Strathallan School in Perthshire, which charges £34,650 per year for boarding pupils, also confirmed it had seen a rise in enquiries and enrolments from across America.
She added: “Our rural location and wide range of opportunities and activities have been attractive to parents from the US looking at Scottish boarding.”
City-based boarding schools in Scotland also said they had also benefited from the trend. Gemma Gray, director of marketing and admissions at £36,495 per year Fettes College, Tony Blair’s former school, said: “The interest in Fettes College from America has been steadily increasing year-on-year but with a particular growth within the last 6 months both from Scottish expats and American nationals interested in our full-boarding ethos.
“Recent Fettes leavers have joined institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale so American students joining us know that they will be fully prepared if they wish to study back in the USA for university.”