IT was against a backdrop of economic and social hardship that Redruth school in Cornwall was awarded specialist status in September 1996, writes Amanda Kelly.
Although once a prosperous mining and manufacturing centre, the area's industrial base had dwindled causing unemployment to rise above 25 per cent.
But, despite the large numbers of people out of work, headteacher John Shears was consistently told by local businesses that they could not find young people with the necessary information technology skills. Acquiring specialist technology status, he accurately predicted, would help to reverse this trend.
He said: "It was a big struggle to raise the necessary sponsorship, but it has paid off. Since achieving technology status, the number of pupils getting five A*-C GCSE grades has gone up from 33 per cent to 51 per cent and it has injected a new feeling of self-belief and optimism into the whole community."
The 1,450-pupil school used the pound;100,000 capital grant on new computer networks that can be used by pupils in andout of school hours.
lThe proportion of pupils in specialist schools achieving 5 A* to C grades at GCSE increased by 6.1 percentage points between 1997 and 2000, 50 per cent more than in other schools.
Though these schools can select up to 10 per cent of their intake by aptitude, research for the Technology Colleges Trust by Professor David Jesson suggests only one in 20 does so.
Professor Jesson used national curriculum test scores at key stage 3 to show that specialist schools do better at GCSE in value-added terms than other comprehensives: the top 25 per cent of all comprehensives included 36 per cent of specialist schools and the bottom 25 per cent only 15 per cent.
Professor Jesson suggests their better performance is only partly due to extra funding and facilities. The bidding process sharpened understanding of improvement techniques, he said and schools made good use of test scores, remedial work and target setting. Business governors provided by sponsors were often more goal-oriented.