Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Specialist schools set for big expansion
Language study may benefit in eight areas of England
The Schools Minister Estelle Morris has announced an expansion of the specialist schools programme, centres of excellence which will provide advanced teaching in technology, modern languages, arts and sports.
The latest group of 51 specialist schools will join a scheme pioneered by the last government, which saw the specialist centres as a way of pushing up standards in the state sector and providing an example of good practice for neighbouring schools.
By September there will be 330 specialist schools across England, with the intention of 450 such schools being open by 2002, representing a seventh of English secondary schools.
All state schools can apply for specialist status, but first they have to show that they can raise £100,000 in private sponsorship. Each of the schools selected is entitled to receive £100,000 in matched funding, plus an extra £100 per pupil.
The funding is reviewed after three years.
These additional finances are merited, the minister said, because there was evidence that specialist schools were proving effective in raising standards. Of last year's 100 most improved schools, 17 were specialist schools, Estelle Morris said.
Among the newly-announced specialist schools is Wye Valley in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, which specialises in sports. The headteacher, Linda Melton, told BBC News online: "We are over the moon.
"We have worked hard to get this and we are absolutely delighted to have been successful."
With mostly local business sponsors, the school raised £65,000 itself. That meant it still had to find another £35,000 to mount a bid for government funding, but the sponsors agreed to underwrite that.
The money coming in for specialist school status must be spent on carrying out the agreed development plan. This involves pupils getting external accreditation of various types, such as first aid qualifications; extra-curricular activites on the school site, such as cricket, tennis, gymnastics, trampolining; and community links - giving local people the opportunity to participate in those activites, which involves such things as improving the changing rooms. Primary schools in the area also benefit.
"So this will have a big impact on the area to the south of High Wycombe," Linda Melton said.
There is a charge for the use by outsiders, and she hopes to boost the school's funds in this way. For in spite of the new money, she still has a deficit for next year of £100,000 in a budget of £1.3m. She has asked pupils to contribute £10 a head and has cut the timetable by a lesson a week to save money.
The full list of new specialist schools: