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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Primary schools are to specialise
children playing drums
A key aim is to raise enjoyment and hope attainment follows
A number of primary schools in England are to become specialists - in the way that most secondaries are now - as part of a pilot scheme from next term.

The pilot will involve 34 schools in clusters in different parts of England.

They will specialise in music, modern languages, science, art and sport, and aim to hit raised test result targets.

Each cluster will get an initial 10,000, plus 65 per pupil for four years, 25,000 in sponsorship and 50,000 in capital funding.

Some of those closely involved with the project fear that expanding it could result in schools simply paying "lip-service" to it - to get their hands on the extra money.

Backers

Unlike the secondary school specialist programme, this is a "top down" initiative.

I hope it is about children enjoying school and wanting to come and wanting to learn
Head teacher Ian Hemelik
Instead of putting themselves forward, the schools were identified by their local authorities who in turn were approached by the Department for Education and Skills.

Whereas secondary schools have had to find sponsors, the department has arranged this for the primaries.

There are four local clusters of five or six schools and one "national" one with another six schools:

  • Devon - music and the arts
  • Sheffield - science
  • Tower Hamlets - art
  • Warwickshire - modern foreign languages
  • national - sport, working with the Youth Sport Trust
One of the new music specialists is Manor Primary in Ivybridge, Devon.

Head teacher Ian Hemelik told the BBC News website each cluster would have a project leader from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT).

He said the schools had been asked to revise their expectations of their pupils' national curriculum (Sats) results for 2008 to 2010.

The uplift depended on individual schools, but was typically five percentage points a year.

The pilot study would assess whether focusing on a subject such as music - which is not tested - would have an impact in the areas that are: English, maths and science.

"I think it will raise standards," Mr Hemelik said.

His school was not at all musical at present, so he expected to see a big improvement in music and the performing arts, but with a knock-on effect elsewhere.

"I hope it is about children enjoying school and wanting to come and wanting to learn."

He added: "It's also about working closely with our other schools and we will be doing collaborative projects."

They will also work closely with their local secondary, Ivybridge Community College.

Warnings

Officials at the Department for Education and Skills have stressed the small scale of the pilot.

This has troubled the project's steering group at the SSAT.

"While the size of the pilot may change according to funds, it is vital that it does not get too small or it will be impossible to learn any lessons from it," minutes of a meeting recorded.

It also warned: "Although January 2007 is the date for starting the process rather than for the beginning of the specialism status, it is still very short notice indeed."

Devon head teacher Ian Hemelik said the first he knew of it was within the past month.

'Breadth'

The SSAT was also keen to have wider specialisms than the subject-orientated ones in secondary schools.

"This is an opportunity to explore themes around innovation or to focus upon teaching and learning, rather than simply focusing on English and maths.

"This should allow primaries to really take off in their true specialism which is breadth."

A spokeswoman for the DfES said: "Having a specialism provides a school with a strong focus that raises standards across the whole curriculum and offers children new opportunities to realise their potential.

"That is why we are looking at whether the success of specialist secondary schools can be recreated in primary schools through this pilot."




SEE ALSO
Specialist schools now a majority
29 Jan 04 |  Education
Specialist schools scheme defended
04 Jun 03 |  Education

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