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Good friends in high places

Businesswoman Anita Roddick calls on a showbiz pal to help her alma mater, Philippa White reports

NOT many schools kick off their campaign for specialist status with a Hollywood star sitting cross-legged in the audience. But then not many schools hold a fund-raising evening in the barn of world-famous businesswoman Anita Roddick.

The founder of Body Shop is a former pupil and teacher at Littlehampton community school in West Sussex. And she roped in her actor friend Woody Harrelson to help out in the school's bid to become a business and enterprise college. Harrelson, the star of the film Natural Born Killers and the television series Cheers, was in the UKappearing in On an Average Day in London's West End.

Ms Roddick said: "I know him through hemp campaigning so I invited him, his wife and two children. The pupils thought they had died and gone to heaven."

The actor was so impressed with students' performance at the fundraising gala that he gave pound;2,000 towards the school's pound;50,000 target. Ms Roddick and her husband Gordon gave pound;5,000, and the Body Shop Foundation another pound;5,000.

But Ms Roddick's involvement in the school's bid for specialist status is by no means limited to hard cash. As a former teacher, she taught English and history for two terms at Maud Allen secondary modern for girls, which merged with Andrew Cairns school to become Littlehampton school, and she relishes the opportunity to get involved in lessons.

"Business studies at the moment is as dull as ditch water," she said.

"It's never about the wow factor, or the buzz factor, or the ability to communicate.

"When I looked at the books in the school library, I thought: 'I have to do something.'" Ms Roddick said that creativity was a vital part of business and that social justice should offset the obsession with profits.

Assistant headteacher Geoff Davis said her input was invaluable. "We sent 16 teachers to her house to throw ideas around about how to get enterprise and entrepreneurship and creativity into classes across the curriculum," he said. "It was brilliant - her enthusiasm has been infectious."

Ms Roddick was born in Littlehampton, the child of Italian immigrant parents, and she continues to live in the seaside town. She is upbeat about her old school's prospects.

"What will make it great is the teachers - and their excitement is palpable," she said.

SPECIALIST STATUS

School specialisms include: languages, sports, arts (performing, visual or media), business and enterprise, technology, engineering, science, and mathematics and computing.

* There are 992 specialist schools teaching 34 per cent of pupils in maintained secondary schools.

* The Goverment aims to have 2,000 specialist schools by 2006.

* Schools have to raise pound;50,000 in sponsorship and present a four-year plan with targets.

* Successful schools get a one-off capital grant of pound;100,000 and pound;123 per pupil per year for four years.

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