Miliband defends specialist programme

Specialist schools south of the border have since 1997 pushed up GCSE scores - the equivalent of Standard grade - far faster than others outwith the Government's designated programme, David Miliband, England's Schools Standards Minister, yesterday told an audience at Glasgow University.

On a fact-finding tour of Scotland, the minister strongly defended Labour's specialist school programme, which will cover two-thirds of secondaries by 2006 and is designed to raise standards across the curriculum. Schools will receive a one-off payment of pound;100,000 and annual help of pound;120,000 for a 1,000-pupil school in return for devising a local mission.

"The rationale is simple: the search for a unique identity is the most potent contributor to the critical self-evaluation that is vital to continuous improvement in any organisation," Mr Miliband said.

On top of that, up to 300 "advanced schools" are intended to spread good practice and become involved in federations.

In yet another divergence from Scottish practice, up to 1,400 "of our most challenging schools" will receive leadership incentive grants worth pound;125,000 a year that are likely to go towards extra pay for middle and senior managers.

Mr Miliband described the English system five years ago when Labour took control as being "in meltdown" and "tattered and torn". It was starved of cash and fragmenting. The minister said: "Our strategy was straightforward. We set out to tackle the outstanding weaknesses of the system and close the attainment gap from the bottom up. Since 1998, there has been a 10 percentage point jump in the number of 11-year-olds achieving the expected standard for their age in English tests. In maths, there has been a 12-point improvement."

A-level passes were the highest ever while basic standards in poor areas had risen - England's system was one of the fastest improving in the industrialised world.

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