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James Westhead reports for BBC News
"Specialist schools are doing best"
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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 11:56 GMT
Specialist schools quickest to improve
technical class More schools are to be awarded specialist status

After the success of specialist schools in this year's secondary school league tables - the government has announced that another 43 schools will be given specialist status.

This year's performance tables show that specialist schools have improved at nearly twice the average rate - and the government now wants to establish a network of 800 specialist schools by 2003.

Specialist schools receive extra funding to provide advanced teaching in a specialist area - such as technology, music, modern languages or sport.

Click here to see the school performance tables

The latest batch of specialist colleges include 23 which will specialise in sport and 20 which will pay particular attention to the arts.

In the past year, the proportion of pupils in specialist schools achieving at least five GCSE passes at grades A* to C has increased by 2.5%, compared with 1.5% for all schools.

The Education Minister Estelle Morris said the improvement showed the "proof of the success" of the specialist school initiative.

But teachers' leaders said the record of the existing 400 schools merely showed that extra money helped improve academic performance.

And one, Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, claimed specialist schools were becoming the new elite - "semi-grammar schools".

chemistry lesson Specialist schools must share their facilities
"They are better resourced and because they are over-subscribed, they do end up selecting youngsters. It is not surprising they do well," he said.

Last week, Sir Cyril Taylor, Chairman of the Technology Colleges Trust, said the success of specialist schools could be put down to the steps taken to identify and rectify poor literacy and numeracy skills among new pupils, and the tough targets they were set for improvement.

Since 1994, specialist status had been taken away from 20 schools which failed to hit their targets, he said.

In the performance tables, two of the 10 most improved schools are specialists - one in the arts and the other in technology.

And yet the school that has seen its results dip most over the past four years is a specialist language school - St Clement Danes School, Hertfordshire, whose performance at GCSE has gone from 81% down to 59%.

'Extra cash for all'

David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said on Thursday he was not surprised at the general success of specialist schools.

"If you can offer pupils high quality teaching in specialist subject areas there is a spin-off right across the curriculum," he said.

John Dunford, General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The connection between additional resources and a faster rate of improvement in results will not be lost on other schools."

And Doug McAvoy, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the extra cash specialist schools received should be made available to all.

"These league tables show the clear link between additional resources and improved achievement," he said.

The table below shows the top and bottom 10 schools on the GCSE improvement measure. Best overall is St Clement's High School because it has consistently raised its performance year on year, where those above it have had uneven results.

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See also:
25 Nov 99 |  Education
School and university league tables
16 Jun 98 |  Education
Specialist schools set for big expansion
15 Jun 99 |  Education
Special needs schools raise status

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