Obama picks Chelsea's old Quaker school

President-elect enrols daughters at prestigious private institution

As the public face of his White House continues to take shape, Barack Obama has made a crucial announcement regarding his family's private life: he has decided where his two daughters are to be educated.

The President-elect and his wife, Michelle, brought an end to one of Washington's most popular guessing games when a spokeswoman revealed that Sasha and Malia, aged seven and 10 respectively, will shortly enrol at Sidwell Friends School.

In choosing one of the city's most prestigious private institutions, the Obamas are placing themselves at the heart of the Democratic establishment: Sidwell was where Chelsea Clinton studied during the 1990s, and is the alma mater of Al Gore III, the son of the former vice-president. Three of Joe Biden's grand-daughters are among the 1,097 students, as are children of the journalist Bob Woodward and Hillary Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn.

"A number of great schools were considered," said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for America's future first lady. "In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now."

The Quaker school, which charges $30,000-a-year (£20,000), has two selling points that appealed to the Obamas. First, it boasts a strong basketball team. Second, it is well suited to guaranteeing security and privacy. Its main campus, which caters for students aged from 10 to 17, is on a private 15-acre site in north-west Washington. The junior department can be found in a walled campus in suburban Bethesda, Maryland, suggesting that Michelle Obama's "school run" will take in two locations for at least the next three years.

Although that represents a minor logistical headache, the extra journey time is compensated for by the school's avowedly liberal leanings, which make it unlikely to provide any political embarrassment for its famous parents.

In an almost painfully politically-correct introduction to its educational philosophy, the school's website notes that "39 per cent of the student body are students of colour," and "22 per cent receive almost $5m of need-based financial assistance". A quarter of the 105 staff are also "of colour", while 5 per cent are members of the Quaker church. Students receive diversity training and active support groups cater for straight, gay, lesbian and transgendered pupils.

The school was founded in 1883 and has a long tradition of serving Washington's political elite: president Richard Nixon's daughter, Trisha, was a student there in the 1970s.

Although a modern British prime minister would almost certainly face criticism for not sending his children to a state school, the issue of private education is a less polarising one in American politics.

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