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EDITIONS
Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 20:09 GMT 21:09 UK
Specialist schools bring concerns
classroom
Kings of Wessex now has a technology specialism
Those schools which have succeeded in winning specialist status are understandably delighted. But not all parents are happy with the push for more specialists, arguing that it can reduce the choice of schools for their children.

The Kings of Wessex Community School in the village of Cheddar in north Somerset is one of the latest batch of schools to be given specialist status - in its case as a technology college.

The head teacher, Chris Richardson, is anxious to reassure parents over one of the major fears raised by the growing number of specialist schools - that there will not be an over-emphasis on the specialism in question.

chris richardson
Head teacher Chris Richardson: A chance to build excellence
Extra money for information technology would benefit all subjects in the school.

"We intend to keep our strength in the arts," he said.

"We see this as a way of building excellence. It isn't a way of narrowing the focus of the school and we are very conscious about that.

"We have been at pains from the outset to explain to our parents that this is very much what we are about.

"What we have here is a wonderful opportunity for extending and enriching the school, developing the school, rather than something that is essentially going to change the focus of the school."

Sponsorship issues

The Kings of Wessex did not find it easy to raise the 54,000 sponsorship needed as one of the criteria for applying for specialists status.

"It's not easy in a rural community - there isn't a large manufacturing base," Chris Richardson said.

"But what we have got is a lot of local support. And we were I think very fortunate in that many of the employers in the community felt willing to put small contributions in to the bid.

"That is probably a strength of the bid in many respects. We've also been fortunate in that quite a number of local charities have come forward and pledged money."

john lane
John Lane: Proud sponsor
And he believes the school benefited from the experience of going out pitching for funds, in that it helped to refine its focus - and gave them a stake in the school.

One of those who put in money - 500 - is John Lane, who runs a small business.

He said one of the main reasons was simply that he'd been asked - and he got a great deal of satisfaction from having saying "yes".

"But then we use the product of the school - the kids who come out of the school are employed by us, some of them, and it's to our benefit of course that they are as well educated as possible," he said.

Lewisham unease

But not everyone is happy with the trend.

In Lewisham, in London, a group of parents is campaigning for a new school.

One of them, Louise Irvine, said she agreed that all schools should have an individual ethos and a strong mission - but should be open to all children.

"Specialisation gives extra, higher status - they have more money, it becomes a school that gets over-subscribed, the other schools in the locality suffer," she said.

Admissions

Some schools were selecting children from higher ability bands which resulted in inequality and discrimination.

But local Labour councillor Katy Donnelly says the council's admissions policy means schools are open to children from all ability bands.

The important thing was to bring about improvement in all schools and make them popular with parents.

"I think specialism and diversity is a way in which we can drive up standards in our schools," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Good or bad: Lewisham
Councillor Katy Donnelly and parent Louise Irvine
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"New specialist schools raise parental concerns"
The BBC's Mike Baker
"Seventy seven new specialist schools split public opionion"
See also:

22 Feb 01 | UK Education
21 Jun 01 | UK Education
21 Jun 01 | UK Education
20 Jun 01 | UK Education
05 Mar 01 | UK Education
08 Feb 01 | UK Education
02 Jan 01 | UK Education
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