Give us cash for caring

Michael Shaw & William Stewart

Specialist schools leader Sir Cyril calls for his members to be given funding bonus if they take difficult pupils, report Michael Shaw and William Stewart.

Vouchers giving schools extra cash if they admit pupils with behavioural difficulties were among the proposals announced this week by the architect of specialist schools.

Nearly 2,000 heads and deputies gathered in Birmingham for the annual conference of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), an event which has become a major fixture in the education calendar.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust, urged the schools to come to the aid of struggling neighbours, to admit pupils with behavioural difficulties and build boarding houses for children from broken homes.

He even quoted Martin Luther King: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?"

Despite Sir Cyril's drive to make specialist schools more caring, he could not resist boasting about their results, pointing out that schools in the trust did 11 percentage points better than others at GCSE.

No one was particularly surprised: specialist schools now account for all but a fifth of England's 3,100 state secondary schools and the minority who remain unconverted include many with the lowest results.

Sir Cyril told the conference it was unfair that some inner-city schools educated 50 or more pupils with emotional and behavioural and social difficulties (EBSD). "Possibly a special voucher system with additional funding for EBSD pupils and a fast-track statementing procedure would encourage high performing schools to take their fair share of these difficult children," he said.

He told The TES earlier that the vouchers could consist of statementing money, and be as much as pound;5,000 for each pupil.

Sir Cyril has been asked by the Government to draw up proposals to expand the state boarding sector and believes this can be a cost-effective way of providing for children in care. He told the conference that it would cost schools around pound;3,000 to build a bedroom or pound;3 million to construct a dormitory of 100 beds.

"Even with running costs of pound;7,000 per year per child, the cost of boarding school provision would be dramatically less than a residential home," he said. "Research shows children from broken homes are frequently among the top achievers at boarding schools."

The conference, themed on "personalising globally", attracted academics and teachers from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Chile China, South Africa and the USA.

Speakers included Jacqui Smith, schools minister, who is due to talk today on reforms to 14 to 19 education, and the explorer David Hempleman-Adams.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, urged schools to take care to ensure that greater freedoms over admissions did not lead to discrimination.

The conference was the first since academies became part of the trust.

Among the 39 to join is the Harefield academy in Hillingdon, whose principal Lynne Gadd gave a seminar on the challenges of running one of the privately-sponsored schools.

One of her ploys was to hire "people development company" Humanutopia to train older pupils in "ice-breaking" games they could teach younger students to play in their new mixed-year tutor groups. Heads at the conference were given the chance to try out the ice-breaking activities themselves, including giant su doku puzzles, table football, and computer dancing games.

There were more games for heads attending a seminar on personalised learning by Professor Keith Topping from Dundee university. They used voting buttons to answer questions after a talk which argued that computer technology was crucial if personalised learning was to work in the classroom.

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Michael Shaw & William Stewart

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