Brighton College

Student banquets and Balenciaga: Inside life at Britain’s most expensive private school

Brighton College costs up to £64,920 per year

Brighton College is not like other schools. Facilities include a £55 million sports and science building with a sea-view running track, 18 university-standard laboratories, a cinema-esque auditorium, a strength and conditioning suite with parquet floor, a 25-metre heated indoor pool, and a double-height sports hall with a basketball court and dance studio. 89 per cent of students achieved A* or A at A-level in 2022. And fees cost up to £64,920 per year— the most expensive annual cost for education in Britain. 

So yes, the facilities are great. But it’s the distinct vibes of this school that make it so interesting. Nomadland’s Oscar-winning film director Chloé Zhao is among well-known alumni. As is Dakota Blue Richards from Skins and half the Harlequins rugby team. Thanks to the headmaster’s  progressive values, the MailOnline has repeatedly called Brighton College the “wokest educational institution in the country”. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times declared it The School of The Decade.  So, we spoke to uni student alumni about what it’s actually like to go to Brighton College. From what the wealthiest are wearing on mufti days to what will really get you expelled:

‘It’s not easy to get in so we’re not messing around’

Emily*, well-spoken in a relaxed grey hoodie with long glossy hair, tells The Tab when she attended Brighton College from year nine to year 13  it was “completely different” from any environment she’d ever been in before. Aside from the extravagant facilities, there are perks, which remind you where your fees are going:

“You get bi-weekly prefect breakfasts at nice places,” Emily says. “And you have this thing called House Dinner where you go out for a really formal three course meal with a dress code…When we’d go out to eat, it would be the same sort of food you’d have at a nice high end restaurant. Fish or steak— fine dining, basically.”

But Brighton student’s boujee life is combined with a focus on getting good grades. Once they’re through the door, Brighton students are regularly tested even before their GCSEs. “It’s not the easiest thing to get in,” says Emily of the gruelling entrance exams. “So, we’re not messing around.”

“Everyone did ask ‘why do we have to do so many exams. We’re literally in year nine'” she adds. “But they would just say ‘we have to prepare you.’ You learn how to revise, how to reduce your nerves. When it came to big exams we’d already done it a bunch of times. It did really help…A large community applied to Oxbridge.”

‘People would show up wearing Balenciaga and Prada’

Brighton College

Credit: TikTok

Like most private schools, Brighton College has a house system. And Anna* – perfect skin, exceedingly polite, radiating Serena van der Woodsen energy – admits she noticed some well-known cliches while studying there as a day pupil from year nine to year 13: “There was definitely one house which had the ‘mean girls,'” she says. “But teachers would have spotted any rivalry that’s out of control.”

Perhaps the biggest clique at Brighton college centres around a different division: “There was a really big difference between borders and day pupils,” says Emily.

“Day pupils were just from the surrounding Brighton area,” she explains. “But borders were either from crazy rich international families in places like Hong Kong or from London schools and were also pretty wealthy. There was definitely a difference – wealth and social hierarchy wise. Some of the borders would get pretty arrogant…When it came to own clothes day there were people who’d show up in Balenciaga and Prada.”

One of Anna’s friends from Hong Kong once turned up to sixth form in a full Louis Vuitton suit. “It had the logo plastered all down the trousers,” she laughs. “I’d be lying if I said that most people aren’t very wealthy…He has a private jet!  But I don’t think most people at the school look up to that kind of lifestyle,” she adds. “They’d just think ‘what’s the point in spending that much money on a suit?'” (On first Google, a monogrammed Louis Vuitton blazer costs upwards of £2,350 – even without the trousers).

‘Brighton College is the least stuck up private school in the country’

Brighton College has been rinsed by the tabloids for being part of the “woke brigade”. Emily mentions how the school pays for all the lower-sixth students to go on a three day trip to Auschwitz for perspective. This September, people scoffed when the school made the decision to abolish “boys” and “girls” uniforms and instead call them “Uniform A” and “Uniform B” to accommodate for dysphoric or transgender pupils. 

But amongst other elite schools in the country, Brighton College students mostly have a reputation for kindness: “Only private school with nice people I’ve ever heard of like what do they feed u,” questioned one ranking video of the UK’s schools on TikTok. 

“People assume that everyone’s really stuck up at private school,” says Emily. “Compared to other private schools, Brighton is the least stuck up one. There’s such a focus on being tolerant. We’re aware of our privilege and we’re told about it every single day. You don’t get that in a lot of private schools. Especially not if you spoke to say – a boy from Eton.”

‘There are four key things which would get you expelled’

Although the school prioritises kindness. Incidents, inevitably, occur and there are four things students are told will rapidly result in their expulsion: “In every single chapel [assembly] at the beginning of term they say: you’ll get expelled for bullying, doing drugs, theft, and sexual activity on site/any type of sexual harassment,” says Anna.

“It’s no tolerance. Zero tolerance,” she reiterates: “I remember hearing about someone peeing or putting sperm in [another pupil’s] shampoo bottle. Gross. Within a week, the kid was already not at the school. It wasn’t even a question what their punishment would be— they were gone. They leave you up to your own morals – to know what the right choice is. But if you’re going to make the wrong one— then we don’t want you here.”

‘The Old Brightonian network spans the whole world’

The perks of being a Brighton College people don’t stop once you’ve left the school. There’s an exclusive Old Brightonian network, filled with alumni working in high-power positions ready to help the next generation of the school’s pupils get where they’re going. “Most of the jobs people work in are stereotypical,” says Emily. “Accounting, finance, banking. A lot of people starting their own businesses. There were also a decent number of creatives. Musicians, film directors. People in the arts,” she says.

“As soon as you leave the school you get sent an email of how to join the network,” Emily explains. “It goes so far back – members who went to the college in like 1965 or whatever. I went to a three-course dinner at The Ivy in London. But they do events all over the country…Or even in Hong Kong or the USA. The network spans the whole world.”

Anna scored herself a career mentor after sending out just a handful of messages on the Old Brightonian network. However, she was less impressed by the in-person networking events where “everyone was just drinking champagne,” she says. “But online, you can see all the internship programmes businesses that other Brighton people set up are doing next summer,” she adds. “I never would have known about them otherwise.”

‘They need to get rid of the rugby lad culture to make the fees worth it’

When asked if Brighton College’s astronomical fees are worth it, Anna and Emily both respond with a resounding “yes” – adding their parents who footed the bill would say the same. But there’s one aspect of her time at Brighton College, which Anna wishes could be altered: What she calls “rugby lad culture”.

“The main issue I had at Brighton was with boys I encountered,” she says. “The school emphasises kindness but not everybody follows through with it,” says Anna, alleging she was sent “horrible” messages by one boy in particular: “I posted some of the things he’d said to my Instagram story. I was just angry at the fact no one seemed to do anything even though so many of the girls knew he was a bad person,” she says.

An internal investigation into the messages was launched. Anna claims around “10 different girls then flagged up issues with this boy” for “overstepping sexual boundaries”. She says he was then expelled within the week.

“It was a year where they could have easily said ‘Oh but this boy has got to do uni applications. He’s got his whole school career set here’. A lot of places would have made that excuse,” she commends. “They didn’t. They got him out as soon as possible.

“As soon as Brighton identify issues, they act on them,” she assesses. “But the problem with sexual harassment culture is that it so often goes unnoticed. It’s the same at university. So, I think Brighton need to harbour a community that can speak up about it. Like, yeah, have that emphasis to ‘be kind’ but also— Stand up for yourself.”

The Tab contacted Brighton College for comment about the contents of this article and are yet to receive a response.

*Names have been changed 

Related articles recommended by this writer:

Overworked and underpaid: Why grads are ditching jobs at the Big Four 

Posho ranking: These are the universities with the most private school students in 2023 

17 Harrow-ing things about the privately educated that baffle state school kids 

Featured image credit via Brighton Pictures/Shutterstock