David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, this week gave the official seal of approval to specialist secondary schools with a promise that such secondaries will provide "masterclasses" for gifted children.
The rules for schools bidding for the Pounds 100,000 capital grant and extra Pounds 100 per pupil that goes with specialist status are to be changed from September to require that they share their facilities with neighbouring schools. They are also to be eligible to apply for extensions to their funding beyond three years where schools meet specific targets on exams, courses and community provision.
In a speech given to the Technology Colleges Trust on Wednesday, Mr Blunkett outlined Labour's vision of an education system that provides diversity. Funding for another 40 specialist schools to bring their number to around 300 is to be made available from next September.
Mr Blunkett said: "Specialist schools are at the heart of my vision - and that of the new Government - of an education system where education caters for the individual strengths of children rather than assuming bland sameness for all."
Ministers want specialist schools to set up "masterclasses" for gifted children from neighbouring primaries. They are also keen that specialist schools are set up in education action zones. The problem for schools in deprived areas is meeting the requirement to raise Pounds 100,000 in private sector sponsorship.
The DFEE expects total sponsorship for specialist schools to be more than Pounds 9 million in 1998-99.