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May 30, 2004
Much cheaper private sector primary schools

I've been waiting decades for this headline:

Cut-price private schools set for launch

Here's the story, which is from today's Independent, in its entirety. I don't want anyone not being able to read this in a year's time, and I particularly want to be able to read all of it myself.

A right-wing think-tank will this week launch a national chain of cut-price primary schools in a drive to open up private education to middle-income families.

The first New Model School will start work in September, charging less than half the average fees of many independent primary or "pre-prep" schools.

Teachers have already been appointed, and tomorrow the school starts advertising for pupils to join the inaugural class of five-year-olds.

The programme has been devised by Civitas, a conservative-leaning policy group, which says that both the state and private sectors are letting parents down.

Surveys consistently show that more than 50 per cent of families would like to educate their children privately. In practice, fewer than 7 per cent can afford the fees.

Dissatisfaction with the state system reaches a peak at this time of year, particularly in urban areas, when thousands of parents find their children do not have a place at the most popular schools.

While the average private primary school charges £7,000-£8,000 a year in the South-east, beyond the means of most parents the New Model School is asking £3,000.

The school's founders say they have created a blue-print that can easily be replicated, and could help families to opt out of the state system.

"Our intention is revolutionary. It's a challenge to both the public and private sectors," said Robert Whelan, deputy director of Civitas. "Much of the state sector is failing. The independent sector is also failing a lot of parents by not providing a sufficiently wide range of products."

The school, based in an old Victorian building in the Queen's Park area of London, is promising to have its pupils reading and adding up after just one year. French will be taught from the start, and Latin from the age of seven. Its behaviour policy is described as "firm".

The New Model School is still considering whether or not to adopt a Latin motto, but Civitas insists it will not be a "crammer" and will instead emphasise music, art and PE, subjects that Ofsted inspectors have said are often squeezed out of the national curriculum.

Civitas is not the first organisation to question the high fees charged by private schools. The independent sector is already under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading over allegations that schools have colluded to keep fees high - something that the schools deny.

An international firm called Gems Global Education Management Systems is in the process of opening its own chain of private schools in Britain at significantly reduced prices.

The former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead is also said to be planning a similar scheme.

But Dick Davison from the Independent Schools Council said that the criticism is unfair, as most of the fees charged by his members are taken up in staffing costs. Lower charges, he said, would lead to fewer teachers, or a lower standard of teachers in many private schools.

I know Robert Whelan of Civitas. He's a good guy (although that doesn't mean I endorse everything else Civitas is saying and doing) and I wish him and all the others involved in this every success. Here's a link to the enterprise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:27 PM
Category: Primary schoolsThe private sector

In your enthusiasm you've missed a few words. Add "reads" after 'Independent' in the first sentence, and "-ly" to "particular" in the next sentence.

'Cos if you want to read this in a year's time, you want it to look right.

Comment by: Natalie Solent on May 30, 2004 08:01 PM

Natalie - thanks.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on May 30, 2004 11:53 PM

The genius of this appears to be that it separates education from childcare- from what I can tell from their website, they will be saving money by teaching in the mornings only. Presumably extra-curricular afternoon stuff will be extra, or parents could choose to find their own babysitters.

If this is what they are up to, I think it's brilliant. The amount of learning children do in schools from 9am to 4pm could easily be achieved in mornings only. And parents can choose how, and how cheaply, to provide for their kids in out-of-schools hours. Not to mention the benefit to children from not being chained to their desks all day long.

Comment by: Alice Bachini on May 31, 2004 12:14 AM
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