Academy lifeline for British bastion of le Bacc
The only school in the country to teach the European Baccalaureate, where pupils have to master three languages, is set to join the state system as an academy to ensure that it survives.
The independent European School in Culham, Oxfordshire, received the backing of Lord Adonis, the schools minister, to save it from closure in 2010. The school was opened to educate the children of employees of the European Commission, which funds it directly. But its money is to be withdrawn, because the number of pupils it was set up to serve has fallen.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Independent Schools Council, Lord Adonis said: "It is an extraordinary institution, unique in doing the European Baccalaureate.
"It would be a tragedy in my view if the school stopped functioning as a result of the European Commission removing its funding."
The children, aged four to 18, all follow the European Baccalaureate, study a wide range of subjects and have to become fluent in three languages. They learn geography and history in their second languages.
As it is funded centrally from Europe, it does not follow any GCSE or A- level courses and its pupils do not sit any national key stage tests.
It charges fees of pound;3,000 a year to around 85 per cent of its pupils whose parents are not employed by the European Commission.
Uffe Petersen, its headteacher, said: "We have a very strong focus on languages and we want to be able to continue with that by offering the European Baccalaureate."
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said the school would not have to follow the national curriculum in any subject if the switch to academy status was approved.
"We will be happy to fund them to continue doing what they currently do," he said.
The school's freedom to offer a one-off curriculum will contrast with the position of most other academies, which have to follow the national curriculum in English and maths.
Another exception is the first Steiner academy, which will open in September in the village of Much Dewchurch, near Hereford. Although it will not have to follow the national curriculum, it has been told it must offer five GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.