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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Should there be more specialist schools?
The government is proposing a big rise in the number of specialist in England.

The education White Paper published on Wednesday also wants to increase the number of single faith schools.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, says she believes the plans will raise standards.

When the expansion of specialist schools was first announced in February the prime minister's official spokesman upset many by referring to the end of the "bog standard comprehensive".

But critics say that this is creating a two-tier education system and argue that single faith schools increase racial segregation.

Will specialist schools improve the education system? Are faith schools the answer?.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As far as I am concerned I have no choice

Mark, England
The reason I will send my son to a "religious school" (Catholic) has nothing to do with religion but more to do with the better discipline, standards and morals in the school. These in turn reflect better results. These schools usually have selection and have a "better class" of parent. As a teacher friend of mine says, "the kids arrive washed, fed and ready to learn". As far as I am concerned I have no choice.
Mark, England

My enduring memory of my comprehensive school is of rarely being pushed or encouraged to do well. For the whole of the first year above-average pupils were held back, being taught things they already knew because no streaming took place. If specialist schools will eliminate situations like this, as well as better serving less academically gifted kids by offering vocational subjects, this can only be a good thing. But I just wonder - to what extent is specialisation a smokescreen for a Labour government that does not want to tackle the real issue - selection - head on?
Anna Bailey, Nottingham, UK

We can't all have our first choice of school

Martyn Williams, UK
Even beyond the selection issue the idea of "choice" in schools is a joke. We can't all have our first choice of school unless the Government accepts that those schools which no-one chooses will be left empty. Instead, these sink schools get filled with people whose parents are not articulate or pushy enough to win the various battles involved or by people whose parents just couldn't care less. Either way - this is segregation, and reinforces the social exclusion Labour claims to want to end.
Martyn Williams, UK

What a shame the Government want to reinforce exclusion, isolation, lengthy journeys to school, religious discrimination, and a tunnel vision education on children as young as 11. Why can't we simply ensure that ALL schools are properly resourced and inclusive?
Helen, UK

Single faith schooling is a step backwards in a multi-cultural society. Specialising could be beneficial, but a basic and thorough education with fully-trained and well-rewarded teachers is still the most important criteria.
Rob, England

This idea is pure insanity

Tim Green, England
When I was 11, I enjoyed science subjects, and of course I had never had a language class in my life. I am now in the final year of a Modern Languages degree, likely to get a 1st, and I speak 4 languages. If my parents had judged on my apparent aptitudes at 11, I would now speak one language and be an average student on a science degree. This idea is pure insanity.
Tim Green, England

No. Parents only ever see the upside of specialist schools. Very few consider the possibility that their child will fail the exam and remain stuck in a poorly funded school, this leaves parents over optimistic.
Jan, UK

At the moment in the UK, schools considered good are oversubscribed, and so there is clearly a demand that is not met by the supply of school places. Creating specialist schools does not address this fundamental problem that every politician has tried to use to advantage but has not had the guts to tackle. Instead smoke screens are created to dodge this issue. Specialist schools do not raise standards - they merely create narrower education opportunities for some children, and none for the others.
Paul, UK/Greece

No sane person would expect to receive a return on their investment in a failing school

Phillip Porteous, Cumbria
Few Private Sector companies are going to want to take over successful schools, even less are going to want (as Labour want them to do) to take over failing schools. Private Sector Companies will only get involved if they can see a fat return at the end of the tunnel. No sane person would expect to receive a return on their investment in a failing school.
Phillip Porteous, Cumbria

The local "BOG" standard comprehensive my older children attend is providing a good, all-round education and giving them the chance to be exposed both to all areas of the curriculum and to children from a variety of backgrounds and ability. It is using up to date methods to assess each child's needs and to target resources where needed. The school is successful and its exam results are improving. Why does it need to change to a "specialised" school? Is it just so that the government of the day can appear to be doing something?

In my view there has been too much tampering with school and the education system for political reasons by governments of both parties over the last 20 years. What's needed now is a period of stability and calm so that all the changes can be assimilated and made to work. During this period a non-political inquiry can look at what we want from our schools and the best way to deliver it, and then the changes can be made in a considered and calm way. Education is much too important for it to be left to politicians who only look to the next election and won't be around to pick up the pieces of their failed changes.
Leon Duveen, UK

Setting school against school merely undermines stability in the education system

Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
I'm far from convinced that these proposals have been properly thought out - a Labour Government should be seeking to raise standards in ALL schools by offering each one the same opportunity to improve. Setting school against school merely undermines stability in the education system - it's time we tackled the underlying problems in schools through a programme of adequate resourcing - if structured properly, this will inevitably reap more rewards than any vague attempts to satisfy 'populism'.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

Two weeks after announcing "record breaking" exam results, the government announces a reorganisation of the UK schools on the basis that the present system is failing and "standards must be improved". The hypocrisy is breathtaking!
Simon, UK

My immediate reaction to reading about specialist schools (something we don't have here yet) is one of amazement. How can one subject be "special" and others not? I am a teacher and it would make more sense to me if any "specialisation" was in learning styles and methodology and/or emphasis on an academic or practical curriculum, but to simply retain all the usual GCE subjects and then say one of them is "special" strikes me as a most peculiar approach to education.

Unfortunately, I can see us heading the same way if there is even the slightest chance it will save government money in the long run. After all we have a PM who has gone on record as saying he does not believe that health or education should be part of a government's responsibility. What a sad world we live in when money rules all decisions.
Jean, Australia

Specialist schools should definitely be encouraged

David Stanley, UK
Specialist schools should definitely be encouraged. Children need to be given specialist tuition in subjects for which they have a talent. No schools should, however, be religious. Children should of course be taught about the great faiths but there should be no indoctrination. Schools are there to educate our children, not to perpetrate a particular brand of superstitious gibberish.
David Stanley, UK

Specialist schools have exactly the same problem as grammar schools: you are making a judgement at eleven about a child for the rest of his/ her schooling. What happens to a child who is good at science whose school specialises in languages? The idea of a comprehensive is that it is a centre of excellence for all subjects at all levels of ability. The Government is admitting it isn't competent to raise standards within schools and can only re-arrange the existing resources.
Steven Kitchen, Middle to North England

I find many of the White Paper proposals very disturbing. One recurrent criticism of the English education system has been too early specialisation. This used to mean at 16 or maybe 14. The Government now seems to believe that it is possible to identify aptitudes for specialisation at 11. Neither my children, nor I would have been able to identify a track for them at the end of primary school. They require exposure to the whole range of new (to them) subjects on the secondary curriculum and time to discover themselves.
Mike Cushman, London, UK

Education goes around in circles

Michael Head, Australia
Education goes around in circles. We had the old tech schools and specialist schools before the comprehensive. This either admits the comprehensive decision was a wrong one, or the politicians believe endless change will satisfy the electorate long enough until the next election and a new batch of changes. Not that I am "cynical" I have been teaching for thirty years.
Michael Head, Australia

Segregation in Oldham = big Nazi votes = riots. New Labours' answer? More segregation!
Ben Drake, York, UK

All the evidence suggests that church schools are generally both successful and popular and the opportunity to make more provision of this kind in a Christian country ought to be welcomed. There is the usual outcry here about "brainwashing" but to deny children the opportunity to receive their education in a faith environment is itself simply a form of bigoted prejudice. Give people the choice and there will be very few indeed who would insist on finding a secularist school for their child.
Stephen Trott, UK

Increased involvement of the private sector in what should be state education is dangerous

Ross Johnson, UK
Increased involvement of the private sector in what should be state education is dangerous and risks turning schools into centres of commerce and business rather than learning. Profits from schooling could find their way into the next commercial venture whilst the possibility of advertising and executives taking over the management of schools could realise some sort of gradually downward spiralling Orwellian nightmare.
Ross Johnson, UK

I came from a well-educated, middle class family and the state comprehensive I went to was determined by merely by the side of the road I lived on. I learnt a lot about people less fortunate than myself - something some people never have to consider. The aim of specialist schools is to provide showcases for government propaganda. The Government certainly doesn't care for those who won't get into them. It's not about improving standards - it's about creating elite groups in society.
Richard, UK

Many contributors below take a strong view against faith schools because of fear that this leads to bigotry and exclusion. This is not a fair criticism: the convent school I attended from 11 to 16 had a mixed intake of Catholics and Protestants as well as a number of kids whose non-Christian parents approved of the discipline imposed. The only time we were segregated was for church on Sunday and any juvenile nastiness or bigotry would have been roundly condemned by our teachers whether religious or lay. The bigotry in Northern Irish schools could not flourish unless these warped views were reinforced within the family so please don't tarnish all faith-based schools with the same brush.
Susan, UK

This is one area I agree with the US system. Children should be protected from religious indoctrination at school. If they want religious instruction then it should be extra-curricular. We are a secular country and as such our tax money should not be spent promoting the indoctrination by any religion. Private religious schools are another matter; it's their money.
Gordon, UK

Each classroom in a common school represents an important sample of our colourful, varied society

Lucie Divisova, Czech Republic
We all are special - isn't that exactly what the Reverends tell us? So why to make a difference among individuals and segregate those more special to special schools? Thanks to "God's law" each classroom in a common school represents an important sample of our colourful, varied society. Such a classroom is a place where we already, as children, meet different characters and where we learn how to live and communicate with the others. And life is about living in a tolerance with the others - no special school can guarantee performance of such a task.
Lucie Divisova, Czech Republic

As New Labour is pushing secondary education in one direction they are pushing the universities in the opposite direction. The phrase that comes to mind about New Labour's policies on education is "Pillar To Post".
Malcolm, Scotland

I don't like the idea of more single faith schools, but I do not see what is wrong with a school which has a focus in a particular area (say IT) but covers all the other requirements of the curriculum. There are many children in our society who have obvious talents in a particular direction. Some are very academic, others more practical. This difference could not have been more obvious than between my sister and myself. I have no doubt that was she to go to a more 'practical' focused school she would have achieved greater success and enjoyed it much more.
Rachel, UK

The current system is failing to interest and stimulate our children

Mark Lisle, Belgium
Let's face it, the current system is failing to interest and stimulate our children and standards are falling in exam results. Specialised schools would be good at focusing what children are good at and would give an opportunity to keep children interested. The education system in Germany has had this for many years now and it includes maths, art, sport and science schools, which teach gifted pupils from all backgrounds. Their curricula are more focused and they consistently outperform regular schools, since many who attend feel they are being given a special privilege and work hard to stay there.
Mark Lisle, Belgium (UK citizen)

When will educationalists understand that choice of school is primarily based on your income? Can you afford the cost of public transport if you choose a school outside your catchment area - up to 360 per term? If there is no public transport, as in many rural areas, have you got transport? If this government wants to make educational choice available to all, then school transport should be available for all, and free. Every year obtaining transport for my children is a nightmare.
Fryer, Cumbria

Personally, I believe that faith-based schools promote a dangerous degree of insularity and intolerance - they are an evil which should be stamped out. But I have no problems at all with "specialist" secondary-schools (an idea which is found in quite a few European countries). It's too much to expect a typical school to be excellent at everything!
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

I think it's quite reasonable. Different religions have different customs, holy days and so on, and trying to mix them only leads to rampant political correctness, and mindless stupidity like 'Winterval'.

The left like to think that if we ignore differences they'll magically go away somehow (e.g. we'll all forget about religious holidays deeply engrained in our respective cultures and start celebrating made-up, politically correct ones), but they won't. As is usually the case, this left-wing propaganda is firmly rooted in a fantasy world which is completely at odds with reality. Divided educational systems are a result of cultural division, not the cause of it. The cause of cultural division is multiculturalism.
T. Reynolds, USA

The Government should drop all these gimmicks

Neil, UK
Having been given an extra pile of cash, Specialist Schools go on to get slightly better results. No surprises there then! In practice they provide no extra choice in most areas. If you live in a small town with one secondary school and it goes Specialist you still have exactly as much real choice as you did beforehand. The Government should drop all these gimmicks, provide more resources, slash red tape and let the heads and teachers get on with the job.
Neil, UK

Given what is happening in Belfast over the last few days, single faith schools seem an even worse idea than they did before. Let's use public money towards ending bigotry, not in promoting it!
Anna Langley, UK

It is unfortunate that the British Government is thinking of increasing the number of faith schools, which, in my opinion, will only please religious fanatics and serve their selfish interests. In a multi-racial society like Britain's, students should be able to study in schools imparting education which will prepare them for life in its totality. Faith schools, I am afraid, will blunt the students' personality and lead to narrow-mindedness. Let us not mix religion and education.
Albert Devakaram, India

If I was to suggest that we should have black or white only schools I would be rightly condemned as a racist. The lesson from history is that segregation of children leads to intolerance. Given this, and the current awful situation in Northern Ireland, what on earth is the Government thinking of when they suggest having more religious schools. We should set an example to our children by showing that, at least in the eyes of our national institutions, we should all be treated the same. How can we expect them to grow up with this attitude if we emphasise our differences at an early age. Religion should not be an issue at schools. If parents want to indoctrinate their children, let them do it in their own time and at their expense.
Julian Ziegler, UK

Why are people so against single religion schools? They've been so successful in Northern Island, Oldham etc. Get real. If children grow up together they will realise how artificial the divisions we draw between ourselves are even when their parents can't.
Peter, UK

Children must have some guidelines on which to base their Life. They can then begin to question those guidelines later on in Life, probably from the age of 14 till they die. As a Protestant (Methodist), I would rather my children went to a Roman Catholic or Islamic school rather than their current Secondary School which lacks any principles at all. Why is it that British children top the abortion, drug taking and one-parent leagues in the world if it were not for a lack of moral guidance.
Anthony, England

The Government are forcing councils to provide large amounts of new homes. In my local area, over 3,000 homes are planned but as yet, no new schools in an area that can't find places for all its current children. We need more schools and we need teachers to be paid a decent salary to staff them.

Is there such a thing as Town Planning anymore, or is the Government interfering in different elements of society and avoiding the blame for the mess it's making?
Toby Braddick, UK

Yeah, right...let's separate pupils into schools depending upon which football team they support; or perhaps which political party their parents prefer; or how about by height, weight, blood type, star sign, preferred TV soap or by where their name appears in the alphabet. It is ridiculous. Estelle Morris: focus on the real issues: Improve school buildings, materials and technology and take the red tape out of schools so that they can focus on providing an education.
David, England

To expect a child of eleven to choose his/her future is ridiculous

Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK
The idea of education between the ages of five and sixteen is to provide a broad general knowledge base on which to build for the future, the foundations for life, if you like. To expect a child of eleven to choose his/her future is ridiculous. How many of us are now employed in the jobs we would have chosen then? Not many I suspect.
Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK

Do we want to educate or indoctrinate our children?
Nick, UK

Just as we don't allow cigarette manufacturers to advertise near schools, we should stop religious bigots from spreading their propaganda amongst schoolchildren. Faith schools let religions use taxpayers' money to poison young minds.
Chris, UK

The country needs properly run schools, staffed by properly paid teachers, teaching the basics that should be taught, such as reading, writing, etc. There has been far too much 'fashionable' teaching, and this proposal would only make things worse.
Andy, UK

I don't think that I have read anything more laughable than this in a very long time. Are the Labour Government ministers just sitting in their very plush offices in Westminster dreaming up ideas of what they can ruin next?
Dave Allen, London, UK

Faith based schools are not an answer to educational problems

Matt Bingham, UK
Faith based schools are not an answer to educational problems. These schools actively promote division through exclusion. The reason faith based schools do so well is because religious parents tend to be more affluent families. Religion should be left at home, children should not be brain washed from an early age.
Matt Bingham, UK

Any school that is exclusively for one religion, race or sex will deprive students of a wide experience of life. To obtain a full, all-round education it is necessary to have full exposure to the variety of human life. One only has to look at the current violence in Belfast to see the result of religious segregation. This should no longer be condoned, even less expanded.
Mark, UK

Faith schools only serve to incite bigotry and racism. If parents want their children to be brought up in their particular system of beliefs then they can do it at home and at their place of worship. In a multi-cultural country, it is part of the responsibilities of the education system to promote integration and tolerance. Just look at the current situation in Belfast, brought about because two opposing groups of bigots cannot tolerate the other, and it is the children who are suffering.
Keith, UK

Click for more on the education proposals


Key plans & reaction



Which schools provide the best education?



711 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

17 Jul 01 | Education
Specialist schools 'boost confidence'
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