Hattersley is wrong: specialist schools do not discriminate

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Roy Hattersley's article on specialist schools (TES, June 19) is mistaken. Nearly all our schools are comprehensive schools which admit a wide range of ability, representative of their catchment areas. They do not select on the basis of ability. Moreover, his article inaccurately summarises the paper by Professor Tony Edwards. This was not based on any original research on specialist schools, but was a review of previously published papers on schools abroad, such as American magnet schools, and the original pilot group of 15 city technology colleges in the UK.

The really interesting question is why England's 345 specialist schools are so popular, with four out of five oversubscribed, even though many were previously underperforming and undersubscribed inner city schools or secondary modern schools.

We believe there are two reasons. First, because they offer an exciting modern curriculum focusing on teaching the core skills which modern jobs require, such as communications, numeracy and information technology. Second, because the early evidence is that many specialist schools are raising achievement levels. Our own recent review shows that of the first group of 44 specialist schools designated in 1994, four out of five have increased their 5 A to C GCSE results significantly. The average gain was 9 per cent, from 40 per cent in 1994 to 49 per cent in 1997. This compares to an increase of just 3 per cent for all comprehensives.We hope that the success of specialist schools will in time convince even sceptics such as Roy Hattersley of the value of diversity.

Cyril Taylor. Technology Colleges Trust. 37 Queen's Gate, London

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