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Private Eye gamble pays off

Leeds head Anne Clarke's unusual approach to sponsorship has been vindicated. Jon Slater reports.

A LEEDS secondary which was so desperate to raise sponsorship that it put an advert in Private Eye, this week finally succeeded in becoming a technology college.

Headteacher Anne Clarke placed the advert - which appeared alongside an appeal from a "hunky scriptwriter" for a "rich bitch sugar mummy"-after losing her original sponsors following rejection of the school's first application.

The TES highlighted Benton Park's plight last June and the story was given further publicity by local and national media. Mrs Clarke said that she had been approached by a number of firms as a direct result of the publicity. Sponsors include Leeds United Football Club and Leeds Bradford Airport.

"Local companies almost felt obliged to help when they saw the lengths we were going to to raise the money. It wouldn't have happened without the publicity."

The success of the bid, which depended on raising pound;50,000 sponsorship, will enable the school to upgrade technology equipment and offer support to local primaries. It also plans to run classes for adults and pensioners keen to learn how to use e-mail and the Internet.

Mrs Clarke's actions, which she described as "risky", have been used in training for heads as an example of innovative use of the media.

"I can't tell you how delighted I am. I could be doing cartwheels down the corridor. It is one of the highlights of my career," she said.

"It's third time lucky after two years of really hard slog. I think they could relax the rules on sponsorship to make it easier. It would make a big difference if you could strike deals with companies so that you could buy their equipment in return for sponsorship," she added.

Benton Park was among 149 schools that won specialist status this week taking the total to 834. The pop star Robbie Williams gave the pound;50,000 that his old school, St Margaret Ward high in Stoke-on-Trent, needed to specialise in the performing arts. Three authorities - Doncaster, Richmond-upon-Thames and Southampton - get their first specialist school.

The Government is to provide an extra pound;29 million for the programme next year.

The next round of specialist schools will, for the first time, include business, maths, engineering computing and science colleges. Around 150 new specialist schools will be announced then, taking the total close to 1,000. Ministers want 1,500 specialist schools by 2005.

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