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Axe falls on cash for the gifted

Three out of Scotland's nine centres of excellence - two specialising in languages and the third in music - are to have their funding withdrawn by the Scottish Executive over the next three years.

Another project, called DEIEP (Developing Effective International Educational Practice), which has allowed 16 authorities to send teachers to other countries to observe and assimilate best practice, is to suffer the same fate.

The three centres of excellence to be targeted are the so-called "local" centres which do not select the most gifted applicants across the whole of Scotland but instead offer enhanced provision to local children. They are:

* The modern languages cluster project known as "partners in excellence" (PiE), which involves schools in East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute. The initiative has been acclaimed for its innovative use of distance learning and ICT.

* The Shawlands learning community at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow, which has aimed to provide excellence in modern languages and to promote an international dimension to the curriculum as a whole, encouraging links with schools in other countries.

* The Fife music project, a regional music centre whose main aim has been to increase participation in music activities and opportunities for local Fife children - much of the activity taking place outside the normal school day.

The six "national" centres of excellence are unaffected. They are Knightswood Secondary's school of dance in Glasgow; Broughton High, Edinburgh, specialising in music; Dyce Academy in Aberdeen, music; Douglas Academy in Milngavie, music; Plockton High, traditional music; and Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, sport.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "The position is that we completed a review of the nine centres of excellence in the spring of this year, the main aims being to provide an up-to-date factual base for a more transparent funding formula.

"The conclusions were that the centres fell into two distinct categories: three local centres which cater for a wider range of abilities but a narrower geographical constituency, and the six national centres which cater for pupils from across Scotland after robust, highly competitive selection procedures.

"The Executive then decided that future funding should concentrate only on the six national centres. The local centres will get the same money this year as they did last year and it will be reduced thereafter. After that, funding for these centres of excellence would cease."

The spokeswoman said that there was no intention to devalue the impact of the projects. "It is about making sure that centres of excellence are accessible to pupils from across Scotland."

The current funding for the Fife music project of pound;154,000 will continue next year, but will be cut by a third in 2006-07, a third again the following year and withdrawn completely in 2008-09. The same formula will apply to PiE, which currently receives pound;404,000 a year, and to Shawlands, which receives pound;350,000.

The DEIEP initiative, started in 1998, covers 16 authorities, and receives pound;33,000 a year from the Executive for running costs. With additional funding from the participating authorities and backing from the British Council Scotland and the League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers, it allows teachers to engage in staff development opportunities overseas, examine best practice abroad and introduce new ideas into their own schools.

It has been highly acclaimed by both the teachers who have taken part and the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University, DEIEP's "critical friend". But the Executive says it is not available to the whole country and running costs should in future be met by the participating authorities.

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