New agency for 21st century governesses

She used to be a family fixture: the put-upon companion to the well-fed children of wealthy parents. But the governess faded with the 19th century.

Now, the newly-established English Governess agency hopes to restore her to the heart of the British family.

Catherine Suckling, its founder, set up the agency after employing a student teacher to look after her two children during the summer holidays.

The student combined formal learning with structured play.

"There's a niche in the market," Ms Suckling said. "It's a teaching job, but there's also childcare involved."

The agency is aiming its governesses at expatriate and foreign families who want to make sure that their children carry on speaking and writing English. Ms Suckling hopes to recruit BEd students and newly-qualified PGCE graduates to work during the summer holidays.

She also hopes that expatriate families who do not want to send their children to boarding school will hire a longer-term governess.

Families will be vetted for suitability, but the governesses must also be well-matched to the job.

"A governess has to be resourceful - someone who can cope with her own company," said Ms Suckling. "But also someone who has something extra to offer, such as sport or singing."

The prototype is Victoria Smolen, 25, former governess to the Suckling children. She concedes that the reputation of the governess, encompassing long-suffering Victorian heroines, such as Jane Eyre, is not encouraging.

"I worried that I'd be treated like a servant," she said. "But the children were well-behaved and I spent two months in Tuscany. It's actually quite glamorous."

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, said many expatriate parents would welcome home tuition.

But she counselled caution: "It's not easy to bring someone into your family," she said. "And if you keep children continually working through the holidays, they're in danger of burn-out."

Ms Smolen, however, believes that there is space for a new governess tradition to develop.

"I kept a journal," she said. "I'd be lying if I said I couldn't see it being turned into Jane Eyre for the modern age."

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