The development and history of educational consultancy is very hard to trace. As with most directed discussion in the Western tradition, it possibly can be traced back to the wisdom of Socrates as transcribed by his student Plato. They certainly had a great deal to say about the nature of education itself and their musings continue to form the basis of much of our thought on the subject. The question has ‘anything really moved on from the Greeks?’ remains a pertinent one.
Early educational consultancy had a high ethical base, perhaps differing from the modern age where it has become largely a transactional service. The current service may be to parents seeking school or university placement, or directly to schools wanting advice on the curriculum, its delivery and increasingly the regulation that surrounds it. Significantly, the space occupied by educational consultancy has grown exponentially since the turn of the millennium. A visit to the internet in search of the historical development of such consultancy will reveal nothing but the sites that offer advice on how to set up as an educational consultant which will swamp you. It will also be a frightening experience as many specify neither qualification nor necessary experience.
Again prior to the millennium most educational consultancy companies of any scale, was limited to the US and UK. The dominance of western thought delivered in the English medium and the pre-eminence of the universities in these two countries, made the demand for their schools a must for aspirational parents. It also spawned an educational consultancy industry that is now well-rooted in many other countries.
Gabbitas which founded in 1873, can probably lay claim to being one of the first consultancies of the modern era. Interestingly, the company began as more of a networking platform for the leading independent school headmasters of the time rather than a bespoke education service to parents. It then developed all the services that can be associated with the sector, the recruitment of bright young staff either for schools or tutoring. This obviously led to a suitable network for placing pupils, often from overseas, and this in turn led to guardianship opportunities. The Heads also used the platform as an opportunity to discuss educational developments in teaching, the curriculum and all the necessary support services. Recently we have even introduced a testing platform to offer benchmarked data to parents and schools. Thus, the modern educational consultancy was born.
In writing this article, I fell upon a Gabbitas advisory brochure for parents from 1977. As I began my teaching career two years later, this gives me an experiential knowledge of education and the changes there entailed. Most readers would be drawn to the difference in schooling costs over the last 40 years: a boarding place would have been around £2,000 as opposed to around £35,000 today. However, of more interest to me was the deferential nature in which schools were then viewed and categorized. They were, in the then order of importance, Public Schools, Co-educational Schools, Preparatory Schools, Schools of English, Coaching establishments and Sixth form colleges and finishing schools (please note the capitalisation or lack of it). How times have changed!
In 1977 many educational consultancy firms would have been horrified at the transactional nature pervading the modern world, and many did not charge direct fees for their services. The advice given was often paternalistic and based upon a life-long and learned association with the independent sector. Almost perversely, in the internet age where placement applications to schools can be made at the touch of a button, the plethora of choice and often the lack of discernment needed, has made the advice of a knowledgeable consultant even more valuable. However, in an industry with little regulation, care must be taken in whom one turns to.
The nature of educational consultancy obviously reflects the developments we see in schools and the industry generally. However, as with all things, the degree of specialist knowledge required to meet the demands of the sector grows exponentially, the day of the generalist has passed.