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Miliband welcomes personal touch

Specialist schools should lead the drive to give every pupil personalised learning, says schools minister David Miliband.

He was due to tell heads at the Specialist Schools Trust conference yesterday that their schools should be at the vanguard of the Government's campaign for individualised learning.

In a buzz-word-laden speech, Mr Miliband was due to say that specialists have "special capacity" for personalised learning because they stretch pupils and offer a range of subjects. "Many of the tools for personalisation are at the core of what it means to be specialist," he was expected to say.

The Department for Education and Skills hopes that all schools will start to adopt personalised learning over the next year. It wants teachers to adapt to pupils' different learning styles and set them individual targets using computer systems such as the Pupil Achievement Tracker, which monitors progress.

Academics say the Government is promising tailored lessons because it wants to persuade parents that a state system with vast numbers of pupils can still meet each individual child's needs.

Mr Miliband expects significant structural and cultural reform will be needed next year in some schools to allow personalised learning to be introduced.

He will also admit that the top-down, Whitehall-led approach to past initiatives has sometimes been "out of touch".

Mr Miliband believes specialists' exam results prove their worth: "There is increasing clarity about how specialisms are beneficial - that the process of becoming a specialist school confronts critical questions about school improvement, that a distinct mission provides a focus for excellence and that this drives change across the curriculum."

However, Mr Miliband will call on heads to "increase the specialist dividend", pointing out that if every specialist school had achieved as much as those in the top quartile, 11,000 more pupils would have got five good GCSEs.

Personalised learning was also expected to be at the core of a speech by Charles Clarke yesterday to new heads at a conference organised by the National College for School Leadership.

The drive to individualised learning has gathered pace since August and was mentioned in the Prime Minister's speech at this year's Labour party conference.

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said that teachers liked the idea but it would only work if staff had small classes and were not under pressure to hit national test targets.

"There is a lack of joined-up thinking. Every teacher wants to do their best for every child, but that does not fit with a system where the emphasis is on how many children get level fours, fives or sixes," he said.

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