While some parents struggle with league tables and entrance criteria, for a privileged handful, the choice is simple: Le Rosey. The co-educational Swiss private school, located in beautiful grounds in a village east of Geneva, has over decades emerged as primus inter pares of an exclusive bunch. Other Swiss private schools, such as Beau Soleil or Aiglon in the ski village of Villars, or St Georges near Montreux, may vie for the same discreet exclusivity, but none quite matches Le Rosey for reputation, prestige – or price.
Outsiders describing the school single out two features: the price, and the student body and alumni. At SFr80,000 a year, and probably nearer SFr90,000-100,000 with extras, Le Rosey certainly does not come cheap, even by the standards of top UK and European boarding schools.
Scholarships do not exist, although exceptions may be made in cases of sudden hardship.
“It would be very difficult for a child from a very needy backround to feel at home in a school like this”, says Robert Gray, headmaster since 2002.
Le Rosey also stands out for the prominence of many pupils and parents. Crowned heads, billionaires, film stars and the like have for years sent their progeny for a high quality, rounded education, conveniently out of the limelight and in secure surroundings.
Mr Gray plays down the glitzier side. “Yes, we have a lot of children here from very rich or famous backgrounds. But we also have many that are more modest – wealthy, by all accounts, but not stratospherically so.”
Formerly senior school co-ordinator at the European School in Brussels, Mr Gray declines to identify any current pupils. Security is serious at Le Rosey.
While many students hail from Europe’s rich upper middle classes, the school also hosts scions of immensely wealthy south American, Middle Eastern or east European families, for whom security – meaning the risk of kidnapping – is a genuine concern. Yet, as the headmaster notes, bodyguards are not allowed on campus.
Rather than focusing on his charges, Mr Gray airs what makes Le Rosey different. For a start, all that money per term provides for an enviable academic education: more than 70 full time professionals teach Le Rosey’s 400 students. Class sizes average 9-10, “very rarely” run to 15-16, and are often much smaller, he says.
Lessons are predominantly in English or French, with pupils ultimately sitting the French Baccalauréat or its increasingly popular International Baccalaureate equivalent. About two-thirds have English as their dominant language for tuition, the remainder French.
But mere bilingualism is not encouraged: ideally, Roséens should be taking lessons in at least one additional language. German, Spanish and Italian are on tap; Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic are standard, and exotica, such as Portuguese, Dutch, Korean or even, at present, Bulgarian, are available for children who may require a bit extra in their mother tongue.
Internationalism also stands out. “There is a genuine commitment,” says Mr Gray. The current student body hails from 58 countries. To guarantee the school’s distinctively multi-cultural character, no national group is allowed to constitute more than 10 per cent of students. Bipolarism is the third feature. Between January and March each year, the entire school decamps to a long established second base in Gstaad, where students can hone their winter sports skills alongside academic studies.
It is an extraordinary mix, and one that creates an unusually strong esprit de corps, even for a boarding school, where lasting friendships are not uncommon. Le Rosey is particularly proud of its alumni network. Old Roséens meet regularly around the world.
Hints of a “Eurotrash” reputation, suggestions that schools such as Le Rosey tend to be repositories for misfits and even, at one time, a reputation for drugs, are not evident, at least to the casual visitor. Students are polite and well turned out.
Current parents speak well of the place, while admitting problems may have existed in the past. Tellingly, many students are children either of past Roséens, or at least have associations through friends or relatives.