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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Big expansion of beacon schools
Easington Lane primary
Easington Lane: One of many new primary "beacons"
Another 300 schools in England have been awarded "beacon" status as centres of good practice from which others can learn.

The 18m expansion of the scheme brings the total to 550 schools.

All the new beacon schools will be serving cities or have partners in cities, and there are many more primary schools.

But some say it is an extension of "a subtle form of selection" in schools.

Announcing the new beaconss, the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said she wanted lower-performing inner-city schools in particular to twin with one of them.

"Schools can now draw on a growing national network which is spreading best practice in education," she said.

"I want to encourage lower performing schools to twin with beacon schools so that they do not have to face the challenges alone."

Better geographical spread

Beacon status lasts for an initial three years. The schools get about 32,000 a year to help share their experiences with other schools and teachers.

The expansion - which takes effect from September - is intended to ensure a better spread of schools around the country.

There had been concerns that primary schools were under-represented and that several local education authorities did not have any beacon schools.

In addition, at least one in four beacons will be in or serving a city area, and all those outside cities will have city school partners written into their contracts.

Beacon schools offer advice on a range of areas including specific curriculum subjects, pupil monitoring, school management, provision for gifted and talented children, improving parent involvement, special educational needs and anti-bullying strategies.

The government's intention is that there will be 1,000 beacon schools by 2002.

'Subtle selection'

But there have been claims from teachers' unions that they are divisive and a threat to the comprehensive school system.

Martin Johnson, the new president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said at the union's annual conference that they were part of "a mechanism which grades schools by status, and to some extent by wealth".

"We are back to selection, a more subtle form of selection," he said.

It might be selection by housing market, selection by parents and selection of children by schools.

But it was certainly nothing to do with establishing "an intake which reflects the whole community served by the school".

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08 Jun 00 | Education
The new beacons
08 Feb 00 | Hot Topics
Some of the best schools
18 May 99 | Education
New 'leading lights' named
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