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Specialist scheme extended

The government has announced further reform in arguably the most radical shake-up of the comprehensive school system since it was elected.

Labour's specialist school programme is designed to nurture talent in specific subjects, aimed at changing the "culture" in education.

A further 51 schools, bringing the total to 330, will now become specialist schools - the largest increase since the Government came to power.

It aims to make one in seven schools specialist by the next general election.

Ministers also revealed plans for 10 pilot schemes in the specialist schools, offering "masterclasses" aimed at talented eight to 14-year-old pupils, to start in September. These classes will focus on the arts, sport, languages and maths.

Under controversial proposals schools have to raise pound;100,000 in private sponsorship before receiving a matching sum from the state.

Schools minister Estelle Morris denied that the Government could be creating further training places but instead is pandering to middle class parents.

The minister distanced the Government from former Tory policy. She said:

"There is a tremendous difference in how we are allocating resources. Eleven (of the 51) are inner-city schools. Some have over 40 per cent taking free school meals. Resources are not only going to middle-class areas. Some of the schools are in the most deprived areas.

"This is about taking learning beyond school doors and school hours, beyond what happens in the classroom although that is important. It is part of turning around the learning culture in this country."

Of the 51 specialist schools, 28 have been awarded technology status, eight language, nine sports and six arts college status.

Schools which cater for children with special educational needs can now also be able to apply for specialist school status, the minister said.

Ms Morris said: "Eventually, we hope that every child, no matter where they live, will be able to have access to specialist teaching facilities that will make the most of their talents."

The Government has courted controversy by planning to allow specialist schools to choose 10 per cent of their intake according to aptitude, leading to accusations that selection is being re-introduced through the back door.

Theresa May, Conservative Party schools spokeswoman said: "Government policy does not stand up to scrutiny. They say they are against selection, but they are going to allow selection for pupils for specialist schools."

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, welcomed the masterclass plans, but said they should take place outside school hours.

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