Status is not music to all ears

The head of the London Oratory, the Roman Catholic school which the Prime Minister chose for three of his children, spoke for the first time this week about his reluctance to seek specialist status.

Despite being one of the country's top-performing secondaries, where 93 per cent of boys achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C or better this year, the school has yet to join the ranks of the specialists.

John McIntosh, headteacher, said the Oratory had considered a specialist bid several years ago, but was put off by the fact that the obvious subject to specialise in, music, was not available. This has changed now. However, Mr McIntosh said he still had reservations, particularly about the idea that becoming a specialist meant laying on extra provision.

He said: "We are already working flat out. It's not unusual for teachers here to be working 14 or 15 hours a day and at weekends. We have not got the capacity to do very much more without devaluing or damaging what we already do here."

The school already offered "specialist" music provision: a programme in which 20 pupils a year study at least one classical instrument. Mr McIntosh said becoming, officially, a specialist music college could mean that the school would be forced to broaden its provision beyond classical music, which might dilute the "classical diet" of the course.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said he thought the school might have rejected bidding because of a reluctance to follow the trust's requirement to form partnerships with other local schools.

But Mr McIntosh denied this, saying the Oratory already worked with five primaries in delivering its music programme.

Despite his reservations, Mr McIntosh said he was talking to Hammersmith council about the possibility of applying for specialist music college status.

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