Lord Digby-Jones behind charity’s £52-a-week Edinburgh private school

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Herald Scotland

One of Britain’s best known former business leaders is involved in plans by a small Scottish charity to make private school fees more affordable, The Herald Scotland reports.

Lord Digby Jones, a past director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, is to help launch a scheme to open a private school in Edinburgh which aims to charge £52 per week.

The school’s annual fees per pupil would be £2,700 per year and compares with leading independent, Fettes College, which charges up to £27,000 over the same period.

Bill Nicol, director of the Schools Education Trust (SET), has enlisted the crossbench peer for the scheme’s launch at an Edinburgh hotel on November 8.

He believes the cut-price fees will provide a “high-quality” alternative to the education “blob” north of the Border.

Organisers say the costs would be kept down by a central support system which Mr Nicol claimed is more efficient than local authorities, and with a focus on improving performance.

His New Lanark-based charity said it wanted to challenge the “dearth of innovation” in the education system north of the Border and will start with a small “egalitarian” school.

Joining would not be based on ability to pay, but instead using a means-tested voucher system.

It comes after a planned private school in Durham offered a similar price tag for schooling. Lord Jones, 61, won a scholarship to Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire, where boarding fees are almost £12,000 per year.

He will chair the scheme’s launch at an Edinburgh hotel, accompanied by Mr Nicol and Newcastle University professor James Tooley, who is involved in the Durham private school scheme.

Mr Nicol said: “The SET would be solely focused on improving educational attainment through high quality, no-frills education with added benefits and innovations for half the cost.

“Why would you continue to fund the state system if you can provide a product that is competitive in the market, that’s got better outcomes and costs less?”

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He added that many teachers that he had spoken to “love this model” but conceded that teaching unions were certain to be against it.

“By and large, the unions are there to protect hopeless teachers”, he claimed.

Mr Nicol also labelled Scottish state education a “blob” and that a “natural consequence”, if his system was successful, would be an end of schools run by local authorities.

Conservative Party education spokeswoman Liz Smith called for politicians to rally behind the initiative.

But former schoolteacher James McEnaney said the plans contained “vague platitudes” and “hollow, ideological assumptions”.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said they were neutral about the proposals. He added: “I don’t see it necessarily taking any pupils off the existing schools.”

Examples of other private school fees in Scotland include St Columba’s in Glasgow which charges £10,920 per year, The High School of Dundee charges £12,498 and The International School of Aberdeen takes £19,820.

Any new school would have to be registered with Scottish ministers.

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