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Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Specialist schools 'limit choice'
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter, at the NASUWT conference

Classroom
The expansion of one school will close another, warns Mr McLoughlin
Parents do not want to choose between different types of schools, but need to be sure of high-quality education on their doorstep, a teachers' leader says.

Peter McLoughlin, president of the NASUWT union, claimed city academies and specialist schools would actually limit choice.

This was especially so in rural areas, which often had only one school.

But ministers say bringing in outside expertise and extra money will raise standards.

'Single system'

Expanding so-called choice was "slavish adherence to an ideology", Mr McLoughlin said.

The government's education programme is aimed towards the expansion of both specialists - focusing on subjects like maths or arts - and city academies, designed to overhaul failing schools in deprived urban areas.

Both schemes require sponsorship from private backers.

You will have a kind of beauty contest between schools
Peter McLoughlin, NASUWT president

Mr McLoughlin told delegates at the NASUWT's annual conference in Brighton there needed to be a "single system of school improvement".

He added that "most parents cannot exercise choice in relation to the schools their children attend".

Mr McLoughlin said: "The expansion of one school will lead to the closure of a less popular school, many of which are in deprived areas, depriving whole communities.

"You will have a kind of beauty contest between schools."

Under the academies scheme, private sponsors have to raise up to 2m before failing schools can be rebuilt. The government pays the rest of the costs, typically 25m.

'Outside expertise'

Sponsors retain some control over the academy's running. It can also opt out of teacher pay agreements and can choose staff not registered by the General Teaching Council for England.

Along with specialist schools, which require 50,000 of private sponsorship, and receive more money than other comprehensives, these would create a "two-tier system", Mr McLoughlin said.

There was "potential for biased admissions policies and private sponsor influence over the curriculum".

Of parents, he added: "They don't want to bus their offspring across cities chasing illusory specialisms.

"They don't want to have to devise complex strategies to engineer choice.

"They want high-quality schools in their own neighbourhoods; they want a situation where all schools are first choice."

Last week, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said academies were designed to stop a "cycle of decline" in inner-city schools which could not "afford to wait".

The government wants 200 to be built, or under construction, by 2010.

Most secondary schools in England are now specialists.

The NASUWT conference runs until Friday.


SEE ALSO:
Kelly defends academies programme
23 Mar 05 |  Education
MPs call for a halt to academies
17 Mar 05 |  Education
Why the fuss over city academies?
17 Mar 05 |  Education


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