Countdown to new public school

A FORMER council-run school is to be the home for the Highlands’ only independent day school, which is due to begin teaching its first pupils in nine months.

The Victorian building, at Petty East, ten miles from Inverness, which closed ten years ago, has now been bought by the Moray Firth School, which plans to open on 2 September.

It will be the first fee-paying school in the Highlands since the closure of Fort Augustus Abbey, the Catholic boarding school for boys, in 1993. Anni Cole-Hamilton, the principal, said: "Nine months seem a most appropriate gestation period for a new school. It is already proving fairly hectic and we shall be recruiting both staff and pupils, as well as preparing the building."

She said there was no commercial backing for the project. Funding to acquire the building and turn it into a school is being raised from private individuals. The school also plans to apply for charitable status.

The building will have four classrooms, a library, staff and office space, and dining and kitchen facilities, although Mrs Cole-Hamilton expects the school to outgrow the facilities. "This is a perfect starting point, but its not the one for the future," she said.

The new school will offer classes from primary one to secondary one, with a capacity of 80. A senior school is planned from 2004.

Fees will range from 5,200 per year for juniors, to 6,000 for the middle school and a likely 6,500 for seniors.

Mrs Cole-Hamilton said there is a "small but significant" demand for this type of education in the Highlands, with inquiries coming from Elgin and Aviemore as well as the Inverness area.

"Just over 8 per cent of children in Britain are educated at independent schools and there is a significant demand. But, at present, the Highlands does not have any independent education at all."

Interest has been growing in independent education in the Highlands with families moving to the area from cities around Britain where private schools are more common.