Stowe school, an elite boarding school in Buckinghamshire is embroiled in a ‘cash for places’ scandal, following an undercover sting by The Telegraph newspaper.
The Telegraph reports, it sent two undercover reporters to meet a representative from Stowe, to discuss the practice of the school taking cash donations of £100,000 and more, to secure places for the children of wealthy international families. The newspaper also received a tip-off that other elite schools in England operated similar processes.
The reporters were pretending to be education consultants, who were working with a wealthy family about securing a place for their child at Stowe.
Speaking in confidence to the undercover reporters in June, a representative from Stowe, a Mr. David Fletcher, was filmed saying:
“I always say to my headmaster: ‘You just don’t realise how things operate elsewhere. You just don’t understand that some of these people are rich beyond Croesus. ”
Another meeting followed in August, where Fletcher was recorded saying:
“I get phone calls from time to time saying, usually from Russian agents where their English language isn’t brilliant, but there is now this kind of code which says Mr [redacted] would like to ‘work with’ Stowe. And we always have to say, I’m not going to be indiscreet, but I mean we are pretty … pretty straight, we always say look here, they have to be able to pass [an entrance exam].
“But if that’s the case then, you know, there is no reason why they shouldn’t go all the way through.”
Mr Fletcher was also recorded being blunt about donations in exchange for elite school places being a “big growth industry” among rich international individuals and added:
“OK, everything I say is going to start sounding a bit dodgy, but if it was the case that somebody was keen to work with the school, if there are marginal decisions, then that can be helpful.
We had a family a little while ago, this is entirely confidential … and we were in the process of funding, raising money for [particular project]. And in the end, I think they [donated] about £100,000 or something like that.”
Mr Fletcher went on to say that Stowe and other schools like it were increasingly pursuing such business deals with rich families too secure funding for building developments and ironically, scholarship and bursary funds.
The Telegraph’s undercover reporters also met with education consultants who facilitate such deals. William Petty a co-director at consultancy firm William Bonas, met with two reporters posing as a Russian parent and their adviser. Referring to two unnamed schools, he said that securing a place for cash could cost over £1 million:
“No one is going to move a muscle at [the school] for less than a million and a half. I know those guys, they’re ruthless and they will push for five [million pounds].”
He named another school which he said would be a “much easier” case.
“I know that we can go to there and say right, ‘a single price right now’, and I know that they will be within what I just talked to you about.”
After approaching Stowe for comment, the newspaper received the following statement from Stowe Headmaster, Anthony Wallersteiner who said the school has:
“…clear policies on admissions and on seeking and accepting donations” and that Mr Fletcher had resigned after admitting making “inaccurate and inappropriate statements”. The school has “no reason to believe” that a donation has ever influenced a decision to award a place.”