PLANS have been unveiled for a new independent grammar school in Durham city centre offering cut-price private education.
The proposed Independent Grammar School: Durham will be housed in the newly-renovated Christchurch in Claypath and will charge parents an “affordable” £52 a week - or £2,700 a year.
The man behind the new venture is Chris Gray, the founder and former principal of Grindon Hall Christian School, in Sunderland, which made the headlines two years ago when it was placed in special measures in controversial circumstances.
Mr Gray said the new school, taking in children from reception to Year 3 initially, would adopt broad inclusive Christian ethos, but was not a faith school.
He said: “My colleague Professor James Tooley has pioneered low-cost private schools all over the world for the last 28 years.
“His conviction is that private schools don’t have to be expensive or glitzy or glamorous places. We share the conviction that education is great when people are the priority.
“A typical private school might cost about 10,000. We are charging less than £3,000 a year, so it is hugely cheaper. He and I believe low-cost schools can work in this country as well.”
It is hoped classes will open in September, but parents should not rely on this as the school would have to go through a registration process with the Department for Education, which could take longer, Mr Gray said.
He added: “It is a newly-refurbished church building. It’s very spacious and is really quite splendid.
“It has a large main hall, which is good for collective events such as assemblies and games and classrooms and other small rooms and facilities, as well as a play area.
“It is a limited school in terms of size and we are very clear that in two or three years we will have to be looking at moving on somewhere else, because we won’t be able to accommodate more than four classes.”
Mr Gray said the school would offer a traditional education, focusing on “things that matter” such as good manners and behaviour and high standards of hard work and an academically demanding curriculum.
There will be an inclusive admissions policy, with the school taking children of all backgrounds, with no selection tests.
Mr Gray was principal at Grindon Hall Christian School from 2002 to 2016.
He said: “We were one of the most successful private schools in the North-East culminating in exam results in 2012 which were absolutely sky high.” The school was placed in special measures for a period after converting to a free school.
Mr Gray said: “The inspection that led to our problems was very much driven by a British values agenda when it was coming to the fore. “That is water under the bridge. The experience I bring to this (new venture) is of 14 years leading a private school.”