Woodhead buys his own school

Former Ofsted chief plans a chain of independent schools based on 'traditional values'. William Stewart reports

Chris Woodhead, scourge of "failing" teachers and schools and fierce critic of government education policy, has put his money where his mouth is and bought his own school.

The former chief inspector first declared his ambition to set up a chain of private schools when he resigned his former post in 2000.

He has set up the firm Cognita and bought Quinton House, near Northampton.

The school for three to 18-year-olds, which charges up to pound;6,450 a year, was bought for an undisclosed sum.

The company is now negotiating the possible purchase of another four or five schools by the end of the year.

Mr Woodhead wants to create a profitable chain of 24 or more Cognita schools in the next two to three years and expects the core to be prep schools.

His aim is to deliver the "highest possible quality of education" using the best possible teachers.

"I readily accept there is nothing new here from what good schools are offering, but I am not convinced that we need to be different for the sake of being different," he said. "I don't believe that we need to reinvent education for the 21st century. Traditional values are important."

Asked how he expected to attract good teachers, having alienated large sections of the profession during his time as chief inspector, Mr Woodhead said: "I think there are teachers and headteachers who are wholly on my side. They always have been and they always will be, although it is difficult for them to speak out."

Jim Hudson, head of Two Mile Ash middle school, Milton Keynes, worked with Mr Woodhead on setting up a national school-based teacher training scheme and believes many teachers will want to work for him.

"You either love him or you hate him, but he is certainly very well respected and he will make a great front man," he said.

Cognita has recruited Jill Lumsden, former head of Kensington prep, as its chief education officer. It is being backed by Englefield Capital, a private equity fund with a pound;487 million warchest. It includes a former head of Walt Disney in Europe among its senior partners and has the broadcaster Sir David Frost on its advisory board.

Mr Woodhead said teachers would be attracted by good discipline and freed from bureaucratic burdens as administration will be centralised. Expertise will be pooled across the schools.

"You have only got talk to parents in London or any other big city to realise that demand exceeds supply," he said.

Mr Woodhead said Cognita had not been set up to rival government education policy.

"This particular initiative is not driven by any political consideration but by my enthusiasm and personal interest in education and teaching, and a desire to put my money where my mouth is."

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