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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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Michael Head, Australia
Segregation in Oldham = big Nazi votes = riots. New Labours' answer? More segregation!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Nigel Tregoning, Falmouth, Cornwall, UK
Do we want to educate or indoctrinate our children?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
17 Jul 01 | Education
Specialist schools 'boost confidence'
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