ALL PRIMARIES could get cash to become specialist schools, focusing on subjects such as arts, music or sport, under plans being piloted in September.
Early consultations with primary heads also raised the idea of allowing schools to take up broader specialisms, such as learning through play or consulting with pupils.
The Government is hoping to buck the levelling off of test scores by replicating the success of specialist secondary schools, which represent 85 per cent of the national total nd receive pound;100,000 plus an extra pound;129 per pupil a year. On average, they add add one and a half grades to GCSE scores.
But critics say there is no evidence that it is the specialist approach, rather than cash or different intakes, that has led to better results. A four-year project will run in 34 primaries, which were chosen on the basis of having strong leadership and management. Six schools in Devon will specialise in music, six schools in Warwickshire will do modern foreign languages, six primaries in Sheffield, including a special school, will focus on science and five schools in Tower Hamlets will do art. The remaining schools, which are spread across the country, will do sport.
Ian Hemelik, head of Manor primary at Ivybridge in Devon, said: "I think it is really exciting that we can take on music and really develop it. It will raise standards."
Nicola Shipman, head of Monteney primary, Sheffield, said: "We already have good attainment in science but we are hoping that by specialising we can ensure every child achieves level 4." A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said the pilot would evaluate the importance of an action plan, target setting, accountability, whole school focus and being part of an autonomous network of schools.
Clusters will get pound;10,000 start up costs and around pound;65 per pupil each for three years. They will each also get pound;50,000 in capital funding, plus pound;25,000 of sponsorship secured by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham university, said: "If you say you are a specialist school and back that up then it narrows the experience of children, and if you do not back it up then it is misleading for parents.
This is probably shutting doors rather than opening them."
Leading article, page 26