A recipe for happy lessons

Parents build pound;12m school to avoid test regime.

A group of parents unhappy with the rigid cycle of testing and pressures of league tables is opting out of state education to set up their own school.

The Family school, opening in south London in September, will require parents to devote at least one day a week to running activities for pupils and managing the school's facilities.

Founding parent Dil Green said the school, which will cost up to pound;500,000 to set up, was the only way to get the kind of education the group wants for their children.

A headteacher will draw up the curriculum and teach in the mornings, with afternoons given over to more creative parent-run classes. All lessons will be for mixed ages, and there will be no homework or participation in national tests.

Mr Green said: "Good teachers in mainstream schools are finding their ability to teach effectively is being constrained because the system is too heavy-handed. It's not their fault, but the emphasis on testing and league tables is forcing teachers to focus on statistics rather than children.

"The unique thing in our school is that we require a significant level of family involvement. Mainstream schools are not able to involve parents enough, and our school will blur that divide."

Mr Green and his partner, Polly Griffiths, bought the land for the school in Clapham, south London, for pound;150,000 at auction and are seeking planning permission to start work on an eco-friendly building, which will cost them another pound;350,000. The land and building will then be leased to the school, so they can recoup their money over the next 15 years. They were able to fund the initial start-up costs following the sale of a family business. A further pound;50,000 will be raised by other parents to buy equipment.

Founded by a group of three families, the school aims to open with 20 pre-school and primary-aged pupils this year, expanding to a maximum of 60 pupils in three years' time. It will be a charity and registered with Ofsted as an independent school, with fees of around pound;1,500 a term.

It will follow an enquiry-based curriculum, which will be designed by the headteacher.

Mr Green and Ms Griffiths, who have a three-year-old son, said the school would appeal to parents considering home schooling.

Government research has found that increasing numbers are opting out. A Department for Education and Skills study revealed that at least 16,000 children in England may now be home educated, a three-fold increase since 1999.

The report said: "Some of the parents interviewed felt standards had declined. This, coupled with the view that the current system is overly bureaucratic, inflexible and assessment driven, prompted some to home educate."

Mr Green hopes the school will have the feel of an extended family. "We want the building and grounds to be available to the families whenever they want to use them," he said. "There is a real appetite for a different way of doing things."

* http:familyschool.pbwiki.com

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