Choosy parents buy British

6th October 2000 at 01:00

WHEN a British education company opened a school for the children of expatriates in Washington three years ago, it planned to accommodate no more than about 25 students.

Then the Americans found out about it.

By the end of the first year, enrolment had almost tripled and half the children were American. Now there are 230 pupils and new schools opened this autumn in Boston and Houston.

One is planned for Chicago next year and another will be set up in Los Angeles, Miami or Atlanta.

"The planning was predicated on short-term British expatriates," says Bob Findlay, school founder and chief executive of the parent company, Education Overseas Ltd. "It did come as somewhat of a surprise that we became so popular among Americans."

There is a dearth of schools offering the English national curriculum in the United States, despite the large number of Britons.

The arrival of these schools has been warmly welcomed. The school in Houston, for example, was formally opened this month by former prime minister John Major.

A three-year-old pupil presented him with a teddy bear for his grandson.

Americans say they are impressed by the fact that students at British schools wear uniforms, use UK texts, and are expected to maintain a higher standard of discipline than inUS schools.

"I think American independent schools tend to be fairly loose," says Ann Elkington, who took her children out of Sidwell Friends school, where President and Mrs Clinton sent their daughter Chelsea, and enrolled them at the expatriates' school in Washington.

"Here there are very high expectations. There's very little coddling. Teachers don't tolerate smart-mouthing and bad language," said Ms Elkington.

While American children normally begin kindergarten at five, the new schools enrol three-year-olds and teach them literacy and numeracy. This has turned out to be an extraordinarily important selling point in competitive American society.

Parents are fed up with the American system of teaching all the students in a certain grade at the same pace and have been drawn to the British schools, where the brightest are allowed to move ahead.

"There's not a glass ceiling," says one teacher. "We attract children who may not be achieving their potential in the US system."

All the furniture and texts are shipped from England, including individual tables in bright primary colors, rather than the less-flexible single-unit desks typical of American classrooms. So are the teachers, who were hand picked this year from 400 applicants who attended a recruiting fair in London.

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