A State School for 30 Bright Children

A stuffed magpie perches on the blackboard of the biology room at Intellektual School, while a snake curls round a branch in a tank.

Discarded on a shelf is a photocopy of a letter written to Britain's Royal Society in 1702.

As its name suggests, Intellektual is a school aimed at academic achievers, with strict entrance exams. Its principal, Yevgeny Markelov, talks of his admiration for the British school Eton.

But there isn't an aristocrat in sight: This is a Moscow state school, and the tuition fee is a symbolic 150 rubles ($6) per month.

"There are children who need to be taught separately," Markelov said. "An ordinary school would destroy them, not because it is bad [but because] they love to study a lot and therefore they are very irritating to the teachers."

The school is housed in a typical 1950s building in a leafy part of southern Moscow. It takes no more than 30 pupils per year, of both sexes. It also runs numerous free clubs for children in the area.

The children are taught in small groups, and each student has a lot of choice of how and what to study. This year, students got into the biology, physics and history faculties at Moscow State University, said Markelov, who teaches history at the school.

Intellektual was founded in 2003 by the Moscow city education department and is overseen by staff from the Moscow City Psychological and Pedagogical University.

The school is a pilot project. The Moscow city education department plans eventually to open 10 more such schools in the city, Markelov said.

Markelov is a large shambling figure with a long beard. His office has a constantly open door. Icons hang in the corner, although he said teachers would not allow him to invite a priest to bless the rest of the school, aware of its secular status.

Markelov believes that schools need to diversify. "We need "to create all different kinds of schools, so that children can develop themselves. Everyone has God's gift," he said. "The fact that private schools are appearing is also very important. I also do a bit of work in the private sector, and private schools are the most ready to experiment."

One former student, Lada Titova, was helping teachers pack for a school trip to Lake Baikal on a recent afternoon. She said that she had got into the medicine faculty at Moscow State University without any extra coaching.

"At ordinary schools, it's cool not to study. Here there is a tradition that studying is great," said biology teacher Alexander Dobrogayev.