Are you a bog-standard secondary?

16th February 2001 at 00:00
If you are, says the PM's spokesman, your era is over. Whether it's city academies or specialist engineering or business schools Tony Blair wants to let difference flourish. Sarah Cassidy opens a four-page special on the new Green Paper.

Labour's plan for schools - should it win a second term - reads like a manifesto rather than a consultative Green Paper.

It aims to put education at the heart of the party's election strategy and snatch back the political initiative after weeks of being on the defensive over teacher shortages.

The timing is critical - and entirely political. The Green Paper presents what are effectively manifesto ideas. Once Tony Blair calls the election, the Department for Education and Employment will effectively shut down and would not be able to publish anything so party-political.

Written by standards guru Michael Barber and Tony Blair's education adviser Andrew Adonis, the Green Paper, Schools: Building on Success, aims to present Labour's vision for the next five years.

It owes much to the Prime Minister's own experience as a parent, his enthusiasm for church schools and his view of comprehensives.

Its mantra is diversity. It heralds a "post-comprehensive" era where every secondary will develop a distinctive ethos and tailor teaching to individual pupils' needs.

It is aimed squarely at the affluent middle-classes. The Green Paper argues that as the economy booms more parents will go private unless the Government takes drastic action.

Comprehensives had often failed to meet the needs of individual pupils, Mr Blair told a Downing Street seminar of heads. The solution - from a Government which has argued in the past it is "standards not structures" that count - is a jigsaw of different types of school.

Critics warned it signalled the death of the comprehensive and a potentially divisive two-tier system.

Mr Blair's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell, later infuriated teachers' organisations when he said: "The day of the bog-standard comprehensive school is over."

Instead, there will be more specialist and beacon schools, church schools, ity academies and schools sponsored by business, faith or voluntary groups alongside foundation, community, grammar and secondary modern schools.

Heads have protested at the anti-comprehensive spin put on the Green Paper. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the term "bog-standard" comprehensive had caused "widespread dismay and anger" among heads.

John Bangs, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The accusation of dull uniformity of comprehensives is simply a caricature."

Nigel de Gruchy, of the National Assocation of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the Government was asking a legitimate question about the future of comprehensives, but said the system should not be changed "by the backdoor and bribery" of the specialist school system.

Nearly half of secondaries will become specialist colleges by 2006, under plans unveiled by Mr Blair. The aim is that, by then, almost every secondary will either be a specialist college or be twinned with one.

The package will include more beacon schools, Excellence in Cities areas and city academies - state-funded independent schools in deprived areas - including new "all-through" schools for five to 18-year-olds.

It will also establish a new national centre for gifted children to co-ordinate extension programmes for the most talented youngsters.

Existing specialists will be able to apply for a new "advanced specialist" status, giving them extra capital funding in return for developing innovative ideas and focusing on teacher and leadership training.

Teachers' and heads' leaders argued all schools should benefit from the extra funding given to specialists. Teacher shortages in science and engineering subjects would make the scheme's expansion very difficult, they warned.

The announcement means the lifting of quotas which currently prevent schools in 21 local authorities from applying for specialist status. Schools in areas where about 30 per cent of secondary pupils are already in specialist colleges had been stopped from applying since September.

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