Specialist clusters claim success

Focusing on a single subject area reaps rewards for primaries in pilot scheme

A trial programme of specialist primary schools is claiming some success after its first year, which could lead to the initiative being introduced across the country.

The 34 primaries taking part in the four-year Specialist Schools and Academies Trust pilot have reported impacts including improved attendance and self-esteem, better take-up rates in extra-curricular activities such as sport and music, and improved links with universities. But the principal measure of success will be key stage 2 scores.

Five clusters of schools are taking part: schools across England specialise in sport; there is a music cluster in Devon; science in Sheffield; foreign languages in Warwickshire; and art in Tower Hamlets, east London. There is also an associate network of four schools in south London.

Each cluster receives a one-off pound;50,000 grant for capital works, and the trust hopes to secure each group pound;25,000 in sponsorship. The schools also get pound;65 per pupil for three years. In the fourth year, it will be assessed whether the work is sustainable without further funds.

Ian Hemelik, head of Manor Primary in Ivybridge, Devon, said his school's involvement in the pilot had been beneficial. "Every child, from Years 1 to 6, is now learning a musical instrument," he said.

"We used to have one KS2 choir with about eight children. Now we have three: a KS1 choir with 32 children, a Year 34 choir with 30, and a Year 5 choir with 30 children.

"This summer, we took a choir representing all six schools in the project to the Devon Mix festival.

"We have used our capital money to refurbish a classroom as a music room, and the pupil money is used to bring in expertise. We employ somebody to take the choirs, and this term children in Years 12 will start learning the ocarina (a small recorder-type instrument), in Years 34 they will learn to play samba drums, and in Years 56 the ukulele.

"Being part of a pilot has been the spur to make things happen."

Nicola Shipman, executive head of Monteney and Fox Hill primary schools in Sheffield, was similarly positive. "The science results across the schools in the project have increased," she said. "It has not only had an impact on science but also on literacy and numeracy. The problem-solving approach we have developed through science is now being used in other areas."

Ian Turner, the trust's director of Strategy and Programme Networks, told education professionals last term that while the aim was to determine which elements of the specialist programme were most likely to make a difference in primaries, it was not just about transferring secondary practice to primary schools. He said the hope was that the programme would produce materials that could be shared between schools, and raise expertise.

About 85 per cent of secondaries are specialist schools - 2,892 in all.

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