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How Sir Kevin could be your white knight

Money is pouring into Thomas Telford College and the newly-knighted head aims to use it to back others' bids for specialist status. Warwick Mansell reports

THE country's most successful comprehensive is to sponsor a chain of up to 25 new specialist schools in the west Midlands, its newly-knighted head told The TES this week.

Thomas Telford city technology college, Shropshire, will write to secondaries across the Black Country in September offering to sponsor those who wish to apply to become specialist colleges.

The move looks set to put the school at the forefront of a government drive to encourage successful schools to spread good practice.

Headteacher Sir Kevin Satchwell said the school could afford to pay for six new specialist bids a year, at a cost of up to pound;50,000 each. It is possible that every new specialist school in the region, which encompasses six local authorities, could have Thomas Telford's financial backing.

The philanthropy has been made possible thanks to the phenomenal success of the school's online exam courses, which it is selling to other schools. Sir Kevin said the courses were now generating pound;1 million a year in profit.

Thomas Telford - which last year became the first comprehensive in the country where every student got five GCSEs at grade C or better - is already pumping pound;1 million into a city academy in Walsall.

Its ambitions do not stop there. Sir Kevin said the school wanted to look at another city academy or two in the Black Country.

While the city academy plans effectively involve the school attempting to replicate itself, Thomas Telford's involvement in other specialist schools would be limited to providing sponsorship cash.

Specialist schools have to raise up to pound;50,000 from sponsors - a sum that Thomas Telford could provide in full - with another pound;100,000 coming from the Government. The Government wants 1,500 secondaries to become specialist by 2006.

Sir Kevin said good individual schools should do their bit to raise national standards: "There are many of us working in schools now who want to do all we can to improve the service as a whole. That's the agenda of the next four years."

By September, 100,000 14 to 16 year-olds will have done Thomas Telford's online learning course. By then, probably two-thirds of all state secondaries in the country will have have sent teachers to train in using the course at Thomas Telford.

Sir Kevin added that he would like to see wealthy and successful independent schools follow his school's lead and help their counterparts in the state sector.

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