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The 10 best cities for exceptional schools

Source: Flickr BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives

Most exclusive: Geneva

When it comes to measuring the exclusivity of the top private school what better metric than fees? State of the art facilities; top notch academic programmes; genuine blue bloods for classmates; a fast-track to the world’s top universities: none of this comes cheap. And if you’re also looking to throw in board and the cache that comes with only the oldest and most prestigious schools you can add a further premium.

But you don’t have to explain this to the parents of Geneva, living as they do just 37km from Institut Le Rosey, which charges annual tuition fees of $99,566 including board. The legendary school has two campuses - one on the shore of Lake Geneva, the other in the chi ski resort of Gstaad where the likes of George Soros and Madonna winter.

Just a little further away in Villars-sur-Ollon is Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil. This is a much smaller, much more modest educational establishment and so commands fees of just $93,158 per annum.

Most choice: New York City

As you’d expect from a city which is home to over 8 million souls, New York has a lot of schools. There are over 400 public high schools alone, 2,000+ elementary schools and more than 700 private schools.

The public system provides parents a great deal of choice from pre-kindergarten all the way through to high school and includes summer schools, programmes for gifted and talented children as well as schools which are more geared towards academic, sporting or artistic disciplines (the Brookings Institute ranks New York’s school-choice system as the most effective in the US).

Outside the public system there are private schools which range from the denominational to the secular, English only to multilingual, single sex to co-ed. But while the choice seems large the demand for these schools is high and rising which has pushed average fees up to around $40,000 per annum for high school students.

Best public education: Helsinki

The Finns top the world rankings when it comes to providing high quality public education, at least according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, even though they eschew all the conventional trappings of a western-style public education systems: children don’t start school until the age of seven; they don’t get homework until they’re in their teens; they sit only one standardised test at the age of sixteen; there’s no rigid national curriculum and no streaming: all children are taught together regardless of aptitude or achievement. In addition small class sizes, 100% state funding and a high status in society for teachers leads to 93 per cent of Finns graduating from high school (that’s 17.5% more than in the US) and the country reaching the top (or very near the top) of the OECD rankings for maths, science and reading in 2001.

Best for sports: Sydney

A quick glance at the medals table of any recent Olympic Games is enough to tell you that Australia is something of a sports mad nation: it regularly places in the top 10 achievers despite having a population only marginally larger than Taiwan (around 23 million). It should come as no surprise then that it’s largest city is also home to what is possibly the world’s most sporting school: Westfield Sports High School.

The co-ed public school is very selective, opening up place only to those who live in its small catchment area or to pupils who excel in some area of sport. Top coaching staff and excellent facilities had seen it produce scores of professional athletes including football’s Harry Kewell and cricket’s Michael Clarke.

Highest standards: Seoul

Like Finland, South Korea regularly ranks near the top in international studies of educational excellence: in 2009 PISA ranked it second in reading, fourth in mathematics and sixth in science. Like their Scandinavian competitors South Koreans place a big emphasis on excellence in teaching. But unlike the Finns, they achieve a 93% rate of secondary school completion with an exacting system of test-driven schooling. South Korean children study longer than children anywhere else in the world and tremendous pressure is often placed on students by their parents - not only because getting a college degree is essential for getting a good job but also because it enhances a family’s social standing.

For the best university: San Francisco

The California Institute of Technology is the best university in the world according to Times Higher Education, ranking ahead of Harvard and Oxford in 2013-2014. The most common route to entry is through one of the US’s magnet schools for science and mathematics - public schools which offer specialised academic programs like Texas Academy of Math and Science or Illinois Math and Science Academy. But Caltech also takes a large number of students from the better large public schools in California, many of which (Gunn, Palo Alto, Torrey Pines, Monta Vista) are located in the Bay Area.

Most sustainable: Melbourne

The International Green Awards were held in London in 2012 and named Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne as the world’s most sustainable educational institution. Designed by Suters Architects the school, located in the southeastern suburbs of the city, features a wetlands environment and urban forest - both of which help to capture carbon from the atmosphere - as well as a Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre made entirely from sustainable timber.

Best for arts: Paris

Paris became home to the world’s first modern art school when the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts was founded in 1648. Since then it has added the École Superieur des Arts Décoratifs, the École de Communication Visuelle, the Paris College of Art and many more. But it’s not just the wide choice of institutions offering professional training that makes Paris top choice for budding Manets and Rodins-in-waiting. The city’s abundant museums, galleries, theatres, opera houses and public works of art are enough to awaken the artist in all of us - young or old.

Best for an alternative education: London

Those looking to follow a more Finnish model of education - avoiding rigid curriculums and test-driven approaches - but who aren’t keen on learning a Scandinavian language to do so would be wise to consider the UK capital. While the UK’s new free schools initiative, which allows anyone to set up a school and apply for state funding, is still in its infancy, London is just an hour’s drive away from what is possibly the most alternative school in the Western hemisphere. Summerhill in Suffolk is a boarding school run as a democratic community of staff and pupils where children can decide for themselves whether they want to attend lessons. despite a rocky relationship with government inspectors due to the lack of assessments, the school has achieved outstanding reports in all other areas.

Biggest: Lucknow

If you’re determined to get your child into the Guinness Book of Records at as early an age as possible then you might consider sending them to the largest school in the world. City Montessori School in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh is one of the most respected secondary schools in the country and was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2002. In 2012 its enrollment numbers reached 45,000 pupils.