Bold Boris to fight for Euro school

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Spectator editor and well-known Eurosceptic supports an Oxfordshire school. Michael Shaw reports

The only official European school in England is being defended from closure threats by one of the country's best-known Eurosceptics.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP and editor of The Spectator, has been pressing education ministers to save the European School in Culham, Oxfordshire. He said he was defending the school in his Henley constituency because he has fond memories of attending a European school in Brussels.

"It would be sad and paradoxical if in a career that I have spent trying to close down various European Union institutions, the first one with which I had any direct relationship and which I particularly like were to be closed in my constituency," Mr Johnson said.

The European School in Culham is one of a dozen schools across Europe which receive more than half their funding from the European Commission and the rest from their home nation's government, parents and private sponsors. At the Oxfordshire school around 40 per cent of the 883 pupils are British or partly British, the rest come from other European countries.

The commission is planning to cut the school's funding because less than 2 per cent of pupils have parents who work for the commission or associated institutions. These pupils receive free places, as do a further 13 per cent whose parents work for European companies who sponsor the school. Parents of the remaining 85 per cent of pupils pay annual fees of pound;1,500 for primary and pound;2,500 for secondary pupils.

The commission is also recommending the school shut its Dutch and Italian departments and that it reviews its fees.

Mr Johnson and David Cameron, Tory MP for Witney, have raised the school's predicament in a parliamentary debate.

Mr Johnson, a diplomat's son, attended the European School at Uccle in Brussels in the 1970s.

"Funnily enough, the playground at the school was very much like the council of ministers in Brussels," he told MPs. "It was striking that the Danes and the Dutch tended to team up with the Brits to bash up the French and the Italians."

He said he recognised it would be unfair for taxpayers to make up for the shortfall in funding, but asked if the Government could help find an answer to the Culham school's difficulties and persuade Brussels to give it more time to make changes.

Margaret Hodge, minister for children, promised that the Government would work with the school to develop an imaginative solution. She said she strongly supported the principle of European schools because she had spoken four European languages by the age of five.

Mrs Hodge added that in the light of the recently-announced referendum on the European constitution it was "a joy that two members of Her Majesty's Oppostion should give a stunningly wonderful endorsement to the best of European culture."

The board of governors of the European schools was due to meet today in Parma, Italy, to discuss the viability of four of 12 schools, including Culham, and to set up a working group to look at fee arrangements.

Berta Burstorff, Culham school head, said: "The decisions of the board of governors will determine the future of the school."

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