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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Specialist schools 'get better results'
boy at whiteboard
Study says specialist schools benefit children
Pupils attending state specialist schools in England do better in their exams than pupils at comprehensive schools, research suggests.

Specialist schools - which are given a government grant of 100,000 and up to 123 extra funding a year per pupil - develop a specialism in subjects such as languages, sport and the arts.

Critics say they create a two-tier system of education.

But the government says they raise standards and it remains determined to expand their number from 849 to at least 1,500 by 2005.

Now research for the Technology Colleges Trust (TCT) has found the educational benefits of specialist schools, created since 1996, outweigh those of non-specialist, non-selective schools.

Tracking pupils

The first detailed national analysis, carried out by Professor David Jesson of the University of York, tracked the performance of pupils aged 11 to 16 in comparison with their peers at comprehensives and secondary modern schools.

Professor Jesson looked at statistics on 415,000 pupils from 2,400 comprehensives and 95,000 from 510 specialist schools.

If you've got additional resources and better equipment and facilities then the probability is that your school will perform better

National Union of Teachers
On the basis of their prior achievements he predicted what GCSE exam grades they would get.

He found 54% of candidates at specialist schools scored five A* to Cs at GCSE - better than the predicted proportion of 50%.

But only 45% of pupils who started at an ordinary comprehensive or secondary modern in 1996 got five A* to Cs - less than the prediction of 46%.

The results are similar to an interim study by Professor Jesson last year which found that 53% of specialist school pupils got five A* to C grades, compared with 43% of comprehensive pupils.


Specialist schools did benefit from a slightly more able intake, with specialist school pupils having done better in primary school tests, the research acknowledged.

Professor Jesson said: "There has been much debate about whether specialist schools' better exam results are mainly due to their attracting more able pupils."

But his study showed "conclusively" that even accepting their somewhat better intake, pupils in specialist schools achieved "much higher" levels of performance.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris wants to see more specialist schools
"The differences are highly statistically significant, and are real differences as opposed to occurring by chance," he said.

"Moreover, the greatest differential performance occurs for pupils in the middle of the prior attainment range, reinforcing the view that specialist schools convey additional GCSE performance for the majority of their pupils."

The chairman of TCT, Sir Cyril Taylor, said: "Specialist schools across England are building a real expertise which is improving their pupils' results and is increasingly being shared with other schools in their communities."

The results of the study were welcomed by the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris.

"We are committed to the continued rapid expansion of specialist schools, with four new types of specialist school opening this September, when an estimated 1,000 secondary schools will have specialist status."

Results v specialism

Professor Stephen Gorard from Cardiff University said people argued the strengths of specialist schools on the basis of exam results, rather than on what they were achieving in their given field.

"If people want specialist schools or faith schools, they should argue their merits on the basis of their specialism or faith," said Professor Gorard.

And there was no evidence that if, for example, a specialist arts school opened in Merthyr Tydfil, it would be serving the needs of a community particularly gifted in art, he added.

Poor comparison

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said it was not possible to compare "unlike with unlike".

"Inevitably if you've got additional resources and better equipment and facilities then the probability is that your school will perform better," the spokeswoman said.

"And, if you select pupils, you are doing so because those pupils have a particular aptitude so the likelihood is that your results will be better than a comprehensive which takes the full range of ability."

Specialist schools are allowed to select up to 10% of its pupils on aptitude, but the majority do not do so.

There are now eight different types of specialist school: the original four of Technology, Language, Sport, and Arts, and four new ones - Business and Enterprise, Engineering, Science, and Mathematics and Computing.

There are no such specialist schools elsewhere in the UK.

See also:

05 Sep 01 | Education
Big changes for secondary schools
17 Jul 01 | Education
Specialist schools 'boost confidence'
05 Sep 01 | Education
More specialists
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