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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 16:54 GMT
New types of specialist school
school ict room
Specialists get large sums of extra money
The prime minister has said that more new specialist secondary schools will be created faster than previously planned.

And there will be three new specialist subjects - engineering, science, and business and enterprise - to add to the existing technology, arts, languages and sports schools.

Tony Blair said he wanted to see the present target of 1,000 specialist schools met by 2003 - one year earlier than previously planned - with a total of 1,500 by the end of the next parliament.

He was setting out his vision for a second term in government in a speech to pupils, teachers and parents at a secondary school in Enfield, north London - built with private finance.

Almost half of all secondaries

The planned expansion of specialist schools would mean 46% of all maintained secondary schools having that status.

Currently 608 have been designated, with 536 already in operation.

To qualify, they must raise 50,000 in sponsorship, prepare four-year plans with targets in teaching and learning in the specialist subject area, and involve other schools and the wider community.

They are allowed to select up to 10% of their intake.

Ministers say they have shown faster progress in raising educational achievement than other comprehensives.

Extra money

Critics say that is hardly surprising given the extra funding they receive - up to 100,000 in capital and 123 per pupil, initially for four years.

Results are rising faster in specialist schools
The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said: "The funding invested in specialist schools will be welcomed by those lucky enough to receive it - all comprehensive schools need to be properly funded too."

The Secondary Heads Association, which had called for a rapid expansion of the programme, welcomed the announcement.

Its general secretary, John Dunford, said: "The increased number of categories of specialist schools is welcome, although I regret that the government has not included humanities and community as two new categories."

University access

Mr Blair also detailed a plan to target 18m over the next three years on increasing the proportion of students from state school backgrounds recruited by top universities.

It could affect 27 universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, where 80% or less of the students are drawn from the state sector.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England will make final decisions in March on which universities will be getting the money.

It is to be spent on employing recruitment officers and training admissions staff and student mentors, and on induction programmes, master classes, open days and other activities.

'Rewards failure'

The idea was first announced as part of the "Excellence Challenge" scheme last year.

It had been given the thumbs down in a report earlier on Thursday by the Commons education select committee.

Its report on access to higher education considered a proposal by the Higher Education Funding Council for England that the "under 80%" universities would get 6m a year to take in students from backgrounds under-represented in the sector.

The MPs said: "We believe that this new money, paid to those institutions that currently fail to recruit students from lower socio-economic groups, rewards those who fail rather than succeed."

It preferred an increase in the "premium" universities get for accepting students from socially disadvantaged postcode areas, from 5% to at least 20% of course fees.

But Tony Blair said: the aim of the targeted money was to say to pupils even in the toughest inner city schools, "your background shouldn't hold you back, if you have the ability you can get the place."

'Nothing new'

He said that by 2010 he wanted to see more than 50% of under-30 year olds going into higher education.

The shadow education secretary, Theresa May, said: "This is just more of the same old spin from Tony Blair.

"His speech contains no new ideas on delivering quality education for all students, whether at primary schools, secondary schools, or university.

"Tony Blair said that he would widen access to higher education. In fact, the number of school leavers from poorer backgrounds going to university has fallen under Labour."



See also:

08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
08 Feb 01 | UK Education
20 Jun 00 | UK Education
02 Jan 01 | UK Education
17 Oct 00 | UK Education
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