A PRIVATE school linked to a 'secretive' Catholic organisation made famous by the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code is to open in Croydon.
The Cedars School is the first senior school in the country to be based on the ethos of Opus Dei.
Though not funded by the controversial organisation, it has been founded by a group of parents, many of whom are members, and one of its priests will be school chaplain.
Head teacher Robert Teague is also a member of Opus Dei, which was founded by St Josemaría Escrivá in 1928.
Mr Teague said the £3,900-a-term school will be based on Escrivá's views on education and would not adhere to many of its – sometimes misrepresented – practices.
"The school is not run by Opus Dei but Josemaría Escrivá's ideas on family, formation and freedom are a key influence on the founders," he said. "These ideas do not impact the curriculum but do alter the 'tone' of the school.
"In practice, the emphasis on character means students are encouraged to develop good habits and study skills.
"The importance of virtues like generosity, honesty and cheerfulness is reinforced, and we work closely with parents and place a high priority on personal freedom.
"But we're not a school offering its own offbeat curriculum."
The Cedars has been founded by the PACT Educational Trust, which describes itself as a providing "independent education with a Catholic ethos". It already runs Oakwood, a primary school in Purley which also has an Opus Dei priest.
Their new school will be based in Coombe House, near Lloyd Park, which had been a residential care home for people with learning disabilities before it was put up for sale for £1.8 million by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust last year.
Builders are currently renovating the grade two listed building in time for the school to accept its first intake of 46 boys in September.
Opus Dei is often portrayed as an elitist, cult-like organisation, shrouded in secrecy, a reputation popularised by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, but rejected by its members.
It has about 85,000 followers worldwide, and a growing UK membership, and advocates traditional Catholic values.
Its members, known as associates or numeraries, practise corporal mortification, which involves enduring suffering, ranging from taking away treats to wearing a metal chain with prongs around the thigh.
Mr Teague, who denied all knowledge of the device, said there was "no way" his pupils would be involved in such practices, and stressed that the school would be open to pupils of "all faiths and none", with attendance at mass voluntary.
PACT had initially intended to open The Cedars as a free rather than independent school, but was put off by the "very restrictive" admissions policy which dictates that only 50 per cent of pupils can be admitted on faith criteria.
"It's not so much a faith thing as trying to find families who want the same thing as we do," said Mr Teague, a former head of maths at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Parents will be subject to a selection interview to ensure they understand the hands-on role they would be taking in their son's education.
"What we're not keen on is the idea of parents who drop their children off in the morning and say 'right, you do it'," said Mr Teague.