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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Specialist schools 'boost confidence'
Kings of Wessex classroom
Specialist schools receive extra government funding
Specialist schools see improved standards across the curriculum, with a sense of excellence in one particular field boosting confidence throughout the school, a government minister claims.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The Learning Curve, School Standards Minister Stephen Timms said that, with more pupils taking pride in their school, achievement was raised across the board.

Stephen Timms
Mr Timms says specialist schools raise standards
Specialist schools, which become centres of excellence in a specific subject area, such as technology, business, sport, the arts or modern languages, have proved a controversial policy.

Many have accused the government of creating a two-tier system in England, with specialist schools getting extra government funding and the rest scraping by.

Open to all

But Mr Timms rejected this view, saying the government wanted every school to have a chance to apply for specialist status.


We're treating one set of schools as high status, high funded and another set of schools as low status, low funded

Tony Neal
"Our vision is that every school will be able to establish a distinctive character and ethos of its own," he said.

"Specialist school are doing that by the specialist route - specialist schools are certainly a very important part of the answer.

"And I think, in the longer term, what we can look forward to is a position where perhaps the great majority of schools will be specialist schools or will have a distinctive character by some other route - a faith school, a beacon school or achieve that distinctive character by one of the other routes that are available," he said.

By 2006 the government wants to see 1,500 specialist schools in England - almost half of secondary schools.

Raising standards

Specialist schools helped to raise standards across the board, the minister said.

"It is a very important feature in all of this that a third of extra funding goes on links with partner schools and the community.

Tony Neal
Head teacher Tony Neal says specialist schooling is unfair
"So it's not only the institution itself which benefits, the wider community does to.

"And what we are seeing is an increase in standards across the system as a result of this approach," Mr Timms said.

When quizzed about the level of selection specialist schools could implement, Mr Timms said it was important to keep that in perspective.

These schools were able to select up to 10% on aptitude, he said, with the great majority - 90% - not selected at all.

"In practice only 7% of specialist schools are in fact selecting by aptitude," he added.

Unconvinced

But Tony Neal, head of De Aston School in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, was not convinced by Mr Timms's arguments.

As a head of a school serving a rural community, Mr Neal believes specialist schools do create a two-tier system.

"The argument against it is that we're treating one set of schools as high status, high funded and another set of schools as low status, low funded.

"And it clearly isn't fair to be regarding half the pupils in the country as second-class citizens," Mr Neal argued.

"There are some very good reasons for schools having more resources than others - geographical reasons, schools serving deprived communities.

"But in this case, schools that have to specialise in everything - and that must be more costly than specialising in one particular thing - are going to be funded less than specialist schools and that doesn't seem to make sense," Mr Neal said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Schools Minister Stephen Timms on The Learning Curve
"Specialist schools are improving standards"
See also:

22 Jun 01 | Mike Baker
22 Feb 01 | UK Education
21 Jun 01 | UK Education
21 Jun 01 | UK Education
05 Mar 01 | UK Education
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