By Madeleine Horton
A new, low-cost independent primary school has opened in Durham City centre.
The Independent Grammar School, situated in a refurbished church on Claypath, will educate a cohort of 65 pupils aged four to nine.
Fees at the new school are just £52 per week, totalling £2700 per year. This is significantly less than the average annual cost of £14,102 per pupil for a place at traditional private schools in the UK.
The school cuts costs by operating on a ‘no-frills’ basis; it does not offer many of the usual facilities available at other private institutions, such as sports facilities and swimming pools, or the smaller class sizes common of private schools, and has minimalist, pared-back interiors.
The school is the brainchild of James Tooley, a Newcastle University professor of Education, who has stated that he intends to reverse the long-held negative reputation of private schools in this country as “elite, exclusive and far too expensive.”
Tooley is the co-founder and chairman of Omega Schools Franchise Ltd, and has also helped develop similar schools in Sierra Leone, India and Nigeria.
The school will offer an ‘unashamedly traditional approach’ in its curriculum, which includes, from Year 2, classes in French and Classics, and Latin before Year 6. History will be taught chronologically, with a particular focus on British history and British values.
The new school enrols children non-selectively, with no admissions test for prospective pupils. The school hopes to instil qualities of “courage, respect, excellence, achievement, transparency and enjoyment” in its pupils, according to the website.
“It’s unbelievable to me that you can run a school on £52 a week per child.”
However, the opening of the school has been met with considerable controversy, particularly from those in the education sector, who argue that at the annual amount of £4,900 per year to educate a state-school child, it is impossible to offer children a quality education at such a low cost.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said that he fears the school will fail as the Durham Free School did before it. “I’m really not confident that it will work,” he said, “It’s unbelievable to me that you can run a school on £52 a week per child.”
The school’s opening has been twice delayed due to a delay in approval from the Department of Education, according to Headmaster Chris Gray, and concerns from Ofsted inspectors about the toilet facilities within the premises.
The Department for Education said that it would be closely monitoring the progress of the school.
Photograph: Reading Tom via Flickr Creative Commons