EVERY secondary in one north-west London borough is applying for specialist status.
Nationally, teacher unions, governors, and heads have warned that the plans for a bigger specialist sector could be divisive. Specialist schools, they fear, will be seen by parents as better than "bog-standard" comprehensives, leading to a two-tier system.
The 10 high schools in Harrow are hoping to avoid such problems by applying for specialist status in concert. Eight have bids near completion, covering the four areas of technology, arts, sport and languages. Of those eight, there are three pairs of schools applying for "joint" college status. So far 19 joint bids - where two schools pool the resources and expertise they get as a result of specialist staus - have been approved nationally.
However, one of the Harrow bids, for a joint languages college pairing the borough's two Catholic schools, Sacred Heart and Salvatorian College, could be delayed because of problems raising sponsorship.
Ten schools on the look-out for cash in one borough could have difficulty in finding donors, although most of the Harrow schools do have sponsors lined up.
Ministers are proposing 1,500 specialist schools by 2006; there will be 684 by this September.
The Harrow move has been made possible because ministers scrapped rules capping the number of such schools in any one area in February. However, it is still not clear if the Department for Education and Skills would sanction all schools in a local authority becoming specialist.
A DFES spokesman said that all applications would be considered on their merits. He said: "We know Harrow schools are interested in a co-operative approach."
Michael Hart, the borough's head of school and community services, said:
"We were very keen on schools working together rather than it being competitive and divisive. We didn't want to be in a position where any individual school was seen to be substantially different from the others."
Howard Freed, head of Nower Hill, Pinner, which is bidding jointly with Hatch End high for arts status, said that as well as putting schools on an equal footing, the joint approach would ensure that Harrow had a range of specialisms to meet all its needs. He said: "It's a strategy agreed between heads and the borough to make the whole bigger than the sum of the parts ... We will stay comprehensive but will all have extra status and expertise to share."