Positive power of specialists

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
We are writing to express our extreme disquiet about the misrepresentation of our research paper on specialist schools in your report from the European Educational Research Conference (TES, October 1).

It is a pity that such a negative spin was put on a three-year evaluation project, which tracked the challenges and progress of a joint specialist performing arts college. Many of the benefits for the school, staff and pupils were ignored. Another major omission was the finding that the attitudes of a minority of non-arts colleagues resistant to adopting a whole-school specialist arts identity became increasingly positive over the three years.

As other research has revealed, the school improvement evident during these years would not have been possible without staff working "above and beyond the call of duty". There were certainly human costs involved that need to be recognised, but the rewards were many in terms of school ethos; improved learning environments; extended arts opportunities; cross-curricular events; inclusive practice; management of artists; community partnerships and networks; improvements in pupils' skills and confidence; and newly-skilled staff who had risen to the challenge of meeting the considerable demands of adopting joint specialist school status. None of these outcomes was mentioned in your report.

GCSE results, commonly used to measure schools' success, were regarded by the researchers as inappropriate and poor indicators of the many improvements that did meet the broadening Government agenda for specialist colleges. The journalist's conclusion that the disadvantages of specialist status outweighed the advantages was completely erroneous. The final words of the conference presentation captured the many positive projects and developments achieved by the schools that "would not have been possible without the vision, skills and resources that had been made possible because of specialist schools status".

Dr Tansin Benn

Barry Benn

University of Birmingham

Brigitte Doyle

University of Leeds

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