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Woodhead seeks backers for low-fee schools

CHRIS Woodhead, the former chief inspector, whose new book castigates the state education system, is aiming to set up his own brand of cut-price private schools.

But his quest for financial backers comes at a time when the market for easy-on-the-pocket private schools is suddenly busy.

Robert Skidelsky, Tory peer and ex-chairman of the Social Market Foundation, is also knocking on the venture capitalists' doors. His aim, like Mr Woodhead's, would be to keep fees below pound;3,000 a year.

In his book, Class War, published this week, Mr Woodhead says: "A private, for-profit industry must be developed to provide effective competition to schools."

The Centre for British Teachers, a not-for-profit company, has already taken over a prep school - St Andrew's in Rochester, Medway. It charges about pound;900 a term, about the same as spending on a state primary. It plans to open a second primary next year.

The ventures come as the first British university centre dedicated to promoting private education alternatives opens. The EG West centre for market solutions in education, at Newcastle University, is directed by Professor James Tooley, formerly of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who has applauded Mr Woodhead's move.

But this weekend an Independent Schools Council spokesman poured cold water on Mr Woodhead's scheme saying he could not see where the demand for such schools would come from.

Mr Woodhead's company was due to be floated on the Alternative Investment Market last November but raised only pound;20m of the pound;30m to pound;70m needed.

Meanwhile sources at the Department for Education and Skills have reportedly said that Mr Woodhead's comments on the "experiential" qualities of teacher-pupil relationships "could well be a bar to him opening schools".

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