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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 13:22 GMT
New specialist schools unveiled
Boys drilling
Specialist schools get extra funding
There are to be new types of specialist secondary school in England, focusing on music or on the humanities - English, history and geography.

A specialist system is one in which every school has a centre of excellence, available to every pupil in the school and as a resource for other pupils in the area

Education Secretary, Charles Clarke

And, in a signal the government has listened to complaints, there is to be a "rural option".

The announcements were made by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, in a speech setting out his vision for secondary schooling.

Approval for another 217 comprehensives to become specialist schools will take the total to just over 1,200, or 38% of all English state secondaries.

Mr Clarke reiterated ministers' desire to see all comprehensives turn specialist eventually - with at least 2,000 by 2006.

He said he wanted a specialist system "which encourages diversity and where excellence is a spur to equality, not its enemy".

Existing specialisms include technology, languages, sports, arts, business and enterprise, engineering, science, and mathematics and computing.

Rural affairs

Rural comprehensives will now be able to apply for specialist status based partly on their location, combining a subject area with countryside interests.

So, for example, a rural science specialist might offer teaching and qualifications related to agriculture.

Schools seeking to become specialists have to raise 50,000 in sponsorship and draw up a four-year development plan with performance targets.

If they succeed in winning specialist status they get a 100,000 capital grant and 123 per pupil per year.

They can select 10% of their intake on "aptitude" for their specialism, though most do not exercise that option.

Although nominally specialists, they must continue to teach the entire national curriculum.

Mr Clarke told an audience of head teachers and union officials in London that four principles lay behind the government's approach.

  • all pupils to get individualised teaching
  • heads and deputies to be effective leaders
  • greater use of classroom assistants
  • stronger links with the community - including parents, businesses and universities.
There was a change to the previously-announced idea of having "advanced" schools.

Mr Clarke said 300 had applied for the new status, aiming to show not only that they were "at the cutting edge of teaching and learning" but also had a record of helping other schools to raise standards.

But he said head teachers had told his department they thought "the advanced school badge was unhelpful" - and there should be room for joint bids.

"We have acted on both their suggestions," he said.

The scheme is to be extended - in part to independent schools that can work with the state sector.

His Tory shadow, Damian Green, said that beneath some "high-flown rhetoric" the government was "fiddling at the edges" rather than creating real reform.

"Every school should be given much more freedom to choose its own path to success instead of fitting into a ministerial straitjacket," he said.

More level field

Teachers' unions welcomed Mr Clarke's emphasis on collaboration rather than competition.

The leader of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, hailed the speech as "a new, more inclusive phase" in the government's policy.

No longer were there the "ladders" of schools of his predecessor, Estelle Morris, or the prime minister's "escalators", and "beacon" and "advanced" titles had gone.

"What was threatening to become a multi-tier system, with many different titles - and, equally damaging, extra funding to go with them - now offers the opportunity to all secondary schools to attract specialist school funding to develop their chosen areas," Dr Dunford said.

He was particularly pleased that rural schools would now be able to join the programme.

But he warned: "Many rural schools are the biggest employers in their areas and will find it difficult to raise 50,000 in sponsorship."

He wanted that sponsorship threshold dropped, and an even greater acceleration of the specialist programme.

The BBC's James Westhead
"Schools in the countryside have felt neglected"
See also:

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