BY ED WEST
OPUS DEI is to sponsor the opening of two secondary schools in the London area, the first of their kind in Britain.
The two schools – independent single-sex schools for boys and girls – are to open in September 2013 in south London, although the exact location is still to be determined and rests upon finding a suitable location.
The schools are being set up by the PACT (Parents, Children, Teachers) Educational Trust, a charity with strong links to the personal prelature. Half of the charity’s board members are members of Opus Dei.
PACT already runs two Catholic prep schools in Clapham, south London, and Purley, in Surrey, and the new schools are partly a response to demand for senior schools from parents at the existing schools.
PACT is bidding on a couple of sites in south London and is said to be looking for a suitable location in areas where Catholic schools are in demand and where there are currently gaps. South-west London, the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in partic ular, has a lack of Catholic schools.
Ella Leonard, chairwoman of PACT’s board, said that the schools would be parent-led and that the education would be as affordable to as many families as possible.
She said: “We wanted to go down the free school route, but what became evident was the very strict admissions criteria.” Free school rules only allow schools to select up to 50 per cent of their pupils, which they felt would limit their ability to set their ethos. Opus Dei’s existing schools currently accept children from other religious backgrounds and Mrs Leonard said that the new schools will “accept people from other faiths and none, as long as the parents accept the ethos”. The new schools will be run with a Catholic ethos according to the principles pf Opus Dei with the organisation’s chaplain, RE teachers and spiritual advice.
Opus Dei operates several schools in the United States: the Heights for boys in Maryland and Oak Crest girls’ school in Washington DC, the Montrose School in Boston and Northridge Prep and the Willows in Chicago. Opus Dei also runs a university, the University of Navarre, established by its founder St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, which is one of the top higher education establishment in Spain.
The two existing Opus Dei schools fund bursaries for about 15 per cent of pupils, higher than most private schools, and the group hopes to at least match that in the new schools. They also offer discounts for parents who have more than two children and wish to educate them all in the same school.
Mrs Leonard said: “We have many children of other faiths in the schools and we also operate very familyfriendly policies. Families come here for the standard of education.” She added: “We want to bring up good citizens, welldeveloped human beings. That’s why the education is personalised and popular. Whatever fluffy things a school has in the way of pastoral care is not as good as having a tutor talking about their development, as well as their education, an adult who they can talk to about anything. That’s such a bonus. That takes time and dedication.”