Many schools - particularly those which are small or situated in deprived or rural areas - have complained that they are prevented from applying because they find it hard to raise the pound;50,000 sponsorship currently required.
Ministers have responded by reducing the amount that schools with fewer than 500 pupils will need to raise to pound;100 per pupil down to a minimum of pound;20,000. But the amount of sponsorship expected to be secured by schools with 500 or more pupils will remain the same.
Schools minister David Milliband explained the change while announcing 160 new specialist schools - including 58 in four new categories. Science has proved the most attractive of the four, with 24 schools having bids approved. There will also be 12 maths and computing colleges. But just four schools have successfully bid for engineering status.
Education Secretary Estelle Morris's old school is one of 18 which will become the first specialist business and enterprise colleges in September. As part of its bid, Whalley Grange girls' school in Manchester will set up a health shop, open to pupils and local people, and a business and enterprise suite in a new sports complex - a far cry from the facilities available to Ms Morris when she was a pupil there in the 1960s.
Another 102 schools will also become specialists in technology, languages, sports and arts.
From September this year there will be 992 specialist schools catering for a third of secondary pupils - more than one million children.
The Government hopes to see at least 1,000 specialist schools by September 2003 and 1,500 by 2005.