THE opening of a new independent grammar school in Durham city centre offering cut-price private education has been delayed until next year.

It had been hoped The Independent Grammar School: Durham would open for the start of this academic year.

But it has not yet been given approval by the Department of Education and has delayed its opening until January.

Principal Chris Gray, the founder and former principal of Grindon Hall Christian School, in Sunderland, said: “I think we saw it coming because the approval process does take time and that’s appropriate. It’s a rigorous process.

“We have hopefully done everything we need to do and we hope we will hear very soon.”

A letter was sent to parents who had expressed an interest in the school on August 10 informing them that it would not now be opening until January 8, at the earliest.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The department has now received all the required information to process the application.

“We are considering the application and the outcome will be announced in due course.”

The process has been ongoing since January and has included an Ofsted inspection by the Department for Education.

The proposed school will be housed in the newly-renovated Christchurch in Claypath and will charge parents an “affordable” £52 a week - or £2,700 a year.

It is planned the school will initially be open to children in reception and up to year four, with additional classes opened in future years.

The school has said it will have an inclusive admissions policy, with it taking children of all backgrounds, with no selection tests.

It would have a broad Christian ethos and would aim to move to a new venue within a few years as the church in Claypath has a limited capacity.

Mr Gray says there had been a “remarkable” level of interest, with inquiries made by parents from all over the country.

A letter sent to parents said: “We have been delighted that, without advertising as such, we have had almost 100 expressions of interest.

“That confirms our view that there is a real demand for the kind of school we are proposing, and that we are likely to have more than enough children to make the school viable.

“If necessary, we are quite prepared to begin with very small numbers but it increasingly looks as if we won’t have to.”

The school has already attracted criticism from the National Union of Teachers, which described the school as a “social experiment.”

It is hoped the school will be the first in a chain of similar schools, offering what it describes as “high quality, ‘no frills’ education”.