More than one way to raise standards

30th January 2004 at 00:00
I have no ideological baggage when it comes to specialist schools. Whatever models or type of school works best for children in a particular area is something to be determined locally. Many comprehensives outperform specialist schools and vice versa.

However, in your article on specialists' results (TES, January 16), Sir Cyril Taylor acclaims the success of the sector by saying that 50,000 extra pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs as a result of an additional investment of pound;250 million in specialist schools. Therein lies the nub of the issue. If all non-specialist schools were given another pound;5,000 per pupil, could they better use the money to transform the lives of in excess of 50,000 pupils? At school level that would mean only an average of 20 more students achieving the magic five higher grades.

Even were a teacher to cost pound;40,000 a year, I would venture that a year spent by every student in a school, being coached in a class of eight, might indeed generate significant improvement. Alternatively, all key stage 4 pupils could be in classes of no more than 16. Could this be a better way to use additional resources? I am sure some schools would be delighted to trial it.

I hope that ideological commitment to specialist schools does not close ministers' minds to the view that there may be more than one way to effectively improve pupil attainment.

Dave Wilcox

Chair of the Local Government Association's education finance group

Local Government House

Smith Square, London SW1

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