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Nine become one bid

Nine Cumbrian secondaries have won a joint bid for specialist school status. They have formed the Rural Academy of Cumbria, a technology college which collectively has 2,300 pupils.

Approval for the scheme is thought to be the first of its kind on such a large scale.

The schools, which are spread out across the sparsely-populated county, jointly raised the required sponsorship after appealing to Government officials that they could not do so on their own.

They were backed in principle by the Department for Education and Skills in June 2002, provided they could raise pound;150,000 - the equivalent of three schools applying for specialist status.

Michael Major, headteacher of John Ruskin school, in Coniston, said: "We are thrilled to have finally won this status. This will transform education in our schools and also the local communities and primary schools where about a third of the money will be spent."

The academy has set up a board to oversee the spending of the pound;1.8 million it will receive in additional funding over the next four years.

Clive Peaple, head of Cartmel Priory in the town of the same name, said:

"We have worked together to share good practice for 14 years and we all know and trust one another. The money will be spent where it is needed most."

The schools plan to broaden the curriculum and improve their technology and other equipment.

They will use video conferencing to allow lessons to be taught from different schools, including AS-levels which are so far only offered at one of the schools, Appleby grammar.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said: "We want to encourage partnerships like this in rural areas where the schools are not otherwise able to join the programme because of their small size."

He said there had previously been a small number of bids from two schools at a time but never on the scale of the Cumbrian schools.

The HSBC Bank has contributed pound;92,000 to the initial sponsorship of the academy, whose schools are: Appleby grammar; Beacon Hill, Cartmel Priory, Ehenside, Lochinvar, Samuel Kings, Settlebeck, Solway community and John Ruskin.

Pathfinder in Cumbria 16

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