The Rugby team

28th February 1997 at 00:00
It costs Pounds 14,000 a year to send a child to Rugby school. Harvey McGavin talks to some very satisfied customers. For three generations, the Lusty family have sent their boys to Rugby school. Alan Lusty started the trend by winning a scholarship to the Warwickshire public school in the 1920s. A mathematician and sportsman, he trained as an actuary before becoming one of the pioneers of in-flight catering.

His business was a success, which meant he could afford to send his sons, Peter and Andrew, to his alma mater. "When I was there it was all dormitories, " recalls Peter, now a partner in a firm of chartered accountants. "And it was a lot more basic. But it had tremendous character.

"The tradition of fagging was on the way out, but you still had to help to run the house by cleaning up or organising something from the moment you got there. Each week there was a list of jobs for the boys in the bottom years. But it wasn't onerous and you certainly didn't consider yourself anybody's slave. "

Times have changed, and Rugby's dormitories are being converted into bedsits. The school has broken with 500 years of tradition to become coeducational. "Schools change a lot environmentally as well as externally," says Peter. "Each headmaster stamps his own influence on the school. Probably the biggest change since I went there is the mixed schooling and the change of headmaster. "

But enough remained of the "Christian community spirit" he remembered for Peter to choose to send his own sons, William, Tom and George, there. Indeed, Rugby still trades on the traditional ethos of an English public school education; its glossy prospectus combines reverence for its past with an enthusiasm for the future. Like an old family firm, Rugby has been in the business of turning out well-educated, well-spoken young people for centuries.

Of course, it helps if the parents are well off. For all but a minority of local pupils on scholarships (called "foundationers", they must live within a ten-mile radius of the school), admission to Rugby's ivy-clad halls costs around Pounds 14,000 a year for boarders.

"It's a very expensive thing to do," Peter admits. "But I have never regretted it. We have put the education of our kids up front. It has made our sons independent and free thinking."

The eldest two, William and Tom, have gone on to become a doctor and church minister respectively. Fifteen-year-old George takes his GCSEs this year and is "contemplating the diplomatic service" as a career.

"I am extremely glad to have parents who can afford to send me to Rugby, " he says. "I just try to get the best I can out of the education it provides. "

George speaks highly of the facilities, quality of teaching, and the sense of community engendered by the school's house system. Some quirkier points of Rugbeian tradition, like the slang terms ("tosh" for bathroom, "beak" for teacher, and "wagger" for waste paper basket), survive from his father's day.

Being away from home for long periods doesn't bother him. In fact, it's not the boarding, but the boredom of long holidays ("They can drag a bit towards the end") that he dislikes.

But not all of George's peers are so grateful for their privileged schooling. "There are some boys at the school who are very spoilt. I have seen kids who have everything on a plate and I feel sorry for them. I know life's not like that."

Despite an education of classically cloistered proportions - prep school followed by public school - George doesn't think Rugby has sheltered him from everyday realities, partly because Rugby is an integral part of the town. "I don't think it cuts you off from life," he says.

When it comes to the end-of-term exam tables, however, Rugby is in a different league from most other schools. It gets results: 99 percent of GCSEs and 89 per cent of A-level passes are at grades A-C. "There is no doubt it is a two-tier system," concedes Peter. "Some of the best teachers in the country can be found in state schools, but it is an unbelievably hard job, with large classes and underfunding."

Peter's wife, Yvonne, works part time as a nurse at the Queen Victoria hospital, across the road from their home in East Grinstead. She went to a state school and was not initially convinced of the value of a private education. But it has not been a strain on the family purse strings ("We have not starved") and she believes her boys have all benefited from the experience.

"We have good state schools round here, but going to Rugby has given them the ability to make choices. Nor are we offloading the parenting; we have a secure home for them here. But the school is like an extended family."

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