So many types of comprehensive

"For all the significant reforms and improvements of recent years, a culture of underachievement still has its mark on the system."

So said the Government of comprehensive schools this week in a new paper confirming plans for a bewildering new array of types of secondary schools, or "new comprehensives".

As well as 300 new "advanced" specialists, there will be training schools and "extended schools" in urban areas, offering health and social services as well as education.

Ministers want 2,000 specialist secondaries by 2006 - an increase of 500 on their previous target - and have raised the number of city academies they expect to see by that date. Instead of 20, there will now be 33.

The Government shared the overall values of comprehensive education, promoting the worth of all pupils, but only schools with a "specialist", or distinct approach could achieve the aspirations behind the ideal, said the paper.

Several Labour backbenchers joined the Liberal Democrats in warning of the dangers of a multi-tiered system - with "standard" comprehensives feeling inferior. Now retiring chief schools adjudicator Sir Peter Newsam has joined the critics.

Sir Peter told the summer conference of the Confederation of Education Service Professionals that he would "eat his hat" if increasing the differences between secondary schools succeeded in improving standards and increasing parental choice.

Among other plans are a raft of measures to improve pupil behaviour. These will include giving all schools that need them a learning support unit, improving teacher training in behaviour management, boosting links between schools and local police, and extending truancy sweeps.

The new gifted and talented academy for the country's brightest pupils will be dramatically expanded, taking 17,400 pupils a year by 2006.

In primary schools, there is a pledge for further investment in the literacy and numeracy strategies, targeting pupils who are not performing to expected levels.

And ministers have pledged to tackle concerns over a narrowing curriculum by working with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to increase the time schools spend on sport, music and modern languages.

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