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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Q and A: Advanced schools
Q and A graphic
The education secretary is promising radical reform of England's secondary schools in return for the massive extra investment she has been given by the chancellor.

Spearheading the changes are new advanced schools.

Where have these advanced specialist schools come from?

They cropped up in consultation papers that came out early last year.

Spool back a bit - how many types of secondary school have we got now?

  • Scotland: comprehensive schools.
  • Wales: comprehensive schools.
  • Northern Ireland: grammar schools and secondary schools.
  • England: comprehensive schools, grammar schools, secondary modern schools; city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts and city academies - all now to be called just "academies" - beacon schools, specialist schools (eight different types), advanced specialist schools...

Stop! Ordinary specialist schools first - what are they?

They specialise - nominally anyway - in one or two subjects. The current list includes technology, languages, sports, arts, business and enterprise, engineering, science, and mathematics and computing.

"They add to the richness and diversity of secondary school provision, acting in close partnership and as a resource for neighbouring schools and the local community, strengthening partnership between schools and business and raising standards of teaching and learning in their specialist areas," it says here.

They have to raise 50,000 in private sector sponsorship and draw up a four-year development plan with performance targets, oh and fill in a lot of paperwork.

If they succeed in winning specialist status they get shed loads of extra money - 100,000 capital and 123 per pupil per year.

They can select 10% of their intake though the vast majority don't.

Ministers like them because exam results have been rising faster there. Teachers' unions say no wonder, with all that cash swilling around - we should all be so lucky.

The government wants to increase the number of specialist schools to at least 1,500 by 2005 - though ultimately there's no limit, they could all become bog standard specialists.

What if you're the only school for miles and you specialise in sport but my child is good at languages?

You've hit the nail on the head - although head teachers say that actually all subjects benefit, and their best subject might not be their specialism.

What if you don't want to specialise - or you can't raise the sponsorship?

You and that nail.

OK - so, "advanced" specialists...?

The new elite. The government intends to let 300 specialists go one step further.

The consultation said the government would "introduce a new category of advanced specialist college to enable well established and high performing specialist schools to strengthen their centre of excellence and enhance their capacity to innovate and provide teacher training."

Remind me what beacon schools are?

Among the best performing - held up for praise, with a view to spreading their good practice.

They are expected to work in partnership with other schools to help them reach the same high standards. They get extra money to do that, for instance by running training courses for teachers.

And the difference is...?

The thinking seems to be that the advanced schools will be more about innovation - varying the timetable, that sort of thing.

And about leadership - possibly using new powers in the Education Bill, which is just completing its passage through Parliament, to form "federations" of schools under a kind of superhead.

It turns out they won't necessarily be specialists, either. There are also plans for advanced beacon schools.

You could be a beacon and a specialist - and an advanced one at that. Onwards and upwards!

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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See also:

12 Jul 02 | Education
24 Jun 02 | Education
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