New project, old ethos

20th February 2004 at 00:00
A private school could provide quality at low cost. Neal Smith reports.

A right-wing think-tank is planning to open a private school for parents who are concerned that the state system will fail their children.

Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, plans to open its "New Model school" in north London, in September, with an initial reception class of around 20 children.

The move follows a failed attempt last year to set up a similar project in the south of the capital.

Civitas' deputy director, Robert Whelan said: "We want to get education away from the politicians who are not the best people to run schools.

"This Government believes in 'education, education, education' but everything just seems to get worse in many state schools.

"We've complained about state education and now want to set up our own schools with fees within the reach of many working people."

However, the school must find a teacher within a month or risk losing the families who are already interested in sending their children there.

Civitas needs 20 children initially to make the school viable, paying pound;1,000 a term, according to Mr Whelan.

Last week 100 parents attended a meeting in Queen's Park but many were sceptical about the scheme. They have stipulated that they want to meet the appointed teacher or they will look elsewhere.

"It's a risk and we would need to meet the teacher first," said Kate Clevely, who has two small children.

Mr Whelan, who is also the director of the pressure group Family and Youth Concern, said Civitas planned to open the school in a local church.

It would be run as a company along similar lines to a co-operative, with a Christian ethos and a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, arithmetic and languages.

Initially, children would be taught for just three hours a day to keep fees low. Parents would be expected to spend one afternoon a fortnight, on an agreed rota, supervising afternoon activities for the children.

"Parents must be more involved in their children's education and can take part as auxiliary staff at school or take afternoon activities," Mr Whelan added.

The school would evolve as the first year group progressed.

Civitas failed in its bid to set up a school in south London last year, claiming that many parents could not afford the fees. However, it was confident it would find more affluent parents in Queen's Park.

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