Headlines: February 11th, 2003

Advanced schools and Beacon schools are out and Specialist schools are in. This major shift in the quest for excellence in secondary schools was announced by Education Minister Charles Clarke. The former strategy was creating a multi-tier system with many different titles and was proving damaging. The new approach it is claimed will limit competition and offer a wider spread of opportunities. The strategy shift marks the start of a more inclusive approach with the expectation that diversity will be encouraged and excellence will be the spur to equality.Initially, further approval has been given for another 217 comprehensives to become specialist schools. This takes the total to 1,200, or 38% of all English state secondaries. The aim is for all comprehensives turn specialist eventually, but with at least 2,000 by 2006. New types of schools will include those with a focus on specialist subjects such a such as English, history and geography. There will also be a rural option and rural comprehensives will be able to apply for specialist status based partly on their location, combining a subject area with countryside interests. This would allow a rural science specialist to offer teaching and qualifications related to agriculture. Existing specialisms include technology, languages, sports, arts, business and enterprise, engineering, science, mathematics and computing.

Schools seeking to become specialists have to raise 50,000 pounds in sponsorship and draw up a four-year development plan with performance targets. If specialist status is achieved they receive a 100,000 pounds capital grant and 123 pounds per pupil per year. They can select 10% of their intake on “aptitude” for their specialism, but most do not exercise the option. Specialist schools must continue to teach the national curriculum.

Teachers’ unions welcomed the shift in direction towards collaboration and away from competition.