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Specialists' delight as they trounce rest

Hard evidence of the progress made by pupils of low ability will be a blow to critics of specialist schools. Neal Smith reports

Pupils from specialist schools significantly outperformed teenagers from non-specialist schools in their 2003 GCSEs, according to a new report.

Specialist pupils also gained more good GCSEs than their performance at 11 had suggested. Their schools had a substantially greater "value-added" score, based on pupils' expected progress between 11 and 16, than non-specialist schools.

The report, published yesterday by the Specialist Schools Trust, showed that 56 per cent of pupils from specialist schools achieved five Cs or better at GCSEs in 2003. This compares to 47.1 per cent of non-specialist pupils.

The number of pupils from specialist schools who gained five or more good GCSEs improved by 1.9 percentage points on 2002. The figure for all other schools was 0.4 per cent.

On the value-added measure, pupils from specialist schools achieved 2.7 percentage points better at GCSE than had been predicted at age 11. But pupils at non-specialist schools did 1.5 percentage points worse than predicted.

The gap between specialist and non-specialist value-added performance was slightly smaller than in 2002. But the report's author, Professor David Jesson, from York university, said the change was "statistically insignificant" and was probably accounted for by the increase in the number of specialist schools.

The Educational outcomes and value added by specialist schools 2003 analysis looked at the results of 938 specialist schools and 1,993 non-specialist schools.

It also found that specialist schools were markedly better in English, maths and science, with 38 per cent of pupils achieving A*-C grades in those subjects compared to 31 per cent in non-specialist schools.

It concluded that specialist schools added most value for children of lower or average ability. Those schools which had held specialist status the longest had improved the most, it added.

Specialist schools have been criticised for selecting pupils and receiving more money than non-specialist schools.

But Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust, said the report proved specialist schools had been a success. "This year pound;250 million, just 1 per cent of this country's total education budget, has been spent on the specialist school programme and for that we have had the staggering return of 50,000 extra pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs," he said.

City technology colleges, science, and maths and computing colleges fared best among the specialist schools. But sports colleges were only just over 1 per cent better than the national average for those gaining five good GCSEs. Sir Cyril said this was because they were generally situated in deprived areas with an academically poorer cohort of children joining them.

There are now 1,463 specialist schools and a further 500 are expected to be designated in September 2004. The trust is confident that nearly all schools will be specialist by 2006.


No.of %5 A*-C schools GCSE 2003

CTC 15 86

Science 22 67

Maths amp; computing 9 63

Language 135 60

Business amp; enterprise 18 57 Technology 414 57

Arts 167 54

Engineering 3 52

Sports 154 48

Avg non-selective specialist 938 56

Avg non-selective non-specialist 1,993 47

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