The growth of private schools
By Annette Chrysostomou
Private schooling began in Cyprus in 1646! There has been a lot of change since then with an increased number of options over recent years
Over time many things about Cyprus have changed, not least the face of private education on the island. At present 38 private secondary schools are recognised by the education ministry, 13 of which have been established since 2000.
Now there is a bigger choice than ever when it comes to location, language and curriculum and currently around 15,000 students attend private schools around the island. Of these, 4,200 are enrolled in primary schools (12 per cent of all pupils in this age group) and around 10,850 or 18 per cent in secondary schools. Though the choice has widened in recent years there has been a long tradition of private schools on the island.
Of those that have survived to this day, Terra Santa is by far the oldest, having been founded under Ottoman occupation in 1646. It later operated under British occupation before becoming a primary and secondary school recognised by the Cyprus government.
The first school with English as the main language of instruction, the English School, was formed under British rule, in 1900. Initially an all-boys school with boarding facilities, it became co-educational in 1962 when it merged with the English School for Girls thus becoming the first co-educational school in Cyprus.
Both these schools are in Nicosia, but soon alternatives became available in other areas.
The American Academy in Larnaca was founded in 1908 by two missionaries of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, another boy’s school. A girls’ department opened in 1916. The initial experiment was short-lived and the girls’ department closed in 1919 but re-opened ten years later. During the Second World War, the school was temporarily transferred to Lefkara village.
St. Mary’s is another school that has a long history, as it started operating in 1921. The Limassol school is administered by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the majority of whom belong to the Maronite community.
In the next year, another school opened its doors, the American Academy in Nicosia. The founders, who had earlier started the American Academy in Larnaca for boys, established the school in response to local demand for an English language school for girls and it was named the American Academy for Girls.
After this there was a long gap during which schools may have opened and closed, or not have opened at all due to a lack of resources.
Perhaps surprisingly, one school opened its doors during the second World War, the Junior School in Nicosia. It was established in 1944 by the British Council and remained under its direction until 1948, when it became a non-profit company.
The Grammar School in Nicosia, another English speaking institution, opened its doors in 1963. In 1966 both the Grammar School and its boarding school moved to privately owned premises on a hill near the Nicosia airport. During the Turkish invasion in 1974 the school was bombed and consequently occupied by the Turks. For the following eight years the school operated under adverse conditions in rented premises.
Many others opened in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of them, such as the Falcon School, Foley’s and the Heritage School teach in English and are located in Nicosia or Limassol, though Foley’s, founded in 1970, was originally based in Famagusta. It moved to Limassol in 1974 because of the invasion.
Not all are Greek or English speaking nowadays. The French school Arthur Rimbaud has been in Nicosia since 1987, and was transformed in 2012 from a purely French school into the French Cypriot School.
Since 1983, at least in Limassol, students have had the opportunity to attend a Lebanese school, and various Russian schools, catering to the tens of thousands of Russians who live there.
In the capital, the demographics are different and a number of Greek secondary schools have come into existence, catering for Cypriot parents who send their children to a state primary school and then prefer to send them on to private high schools.
When it comes to English speaking schools, there are now other options both in Larnaca, where the Med High and Junior school has operated since 1998, and in Paphos where the International School of Paphos was the only choice from 1987 until 2010, after which the TLC and British School Aspire made it possible for parents to choose.
Those living in the Famagusta area don’t necessarily have to travel to Larnaca if they opt for a private school, as Xenion High School opened in 2001 and added a primary school in 2014.
The Greek schools tend to completely follow the curriculum of the state schools.
Of the others, many of the English speaking ones follow about two-thirds of the public programme in a bid to attract both Cypriots and foreigners while others, such as the Russian and Lebanese schools rely much less on local students.
Private schools are closely monitored by the ministry and they are governed by two laws; one for the registration of the school and one for its operation but there are a lot of changes in the pipeline, head of the private secondary education department Frosso Tofaridou explained.
“There will be separate legislation for private schools and other institutes and it will be much more detailed. This is in the final stages and will be discussed in parliament in February.”
Once a school has the initial permit and opens, inspectors from the ministry will continue to check that owners comply with the legislation. “We take this very seriously, especially when it comes to the physical security of the children,” Tofaridou stressed.
When an inspector finds an irregularity, the school is warned orally and in writing and has three months to remedy the situation, after which the case is reported to the police and becomes a disciplinary matter.
With changes in the offing for legislation and a growing body of private students, what of the future? Likely a Chinese school will be part of it, as more and more Chinese families settle in around Limassol and Paphos.