Selective control in Cumbria

30th January 2004 at 00:00
You report that the value-added differential of 4.2 per cent shows that specialist schools have "trounced" their non-specialist peers; and this statistic "will be a blow to critics of specialist schools".

But do the league tables really tell us anything more than the truism that successful schools succeed? The 40 per cent or so of secondaries that have secured specialist status and the additional funding that it brings have been, by definition, schools with confident leadership, relatively stable staffing, and pupils and parents in the main co-operative and supportive.

Their ongoing improvement may be a direct consequence of their particular specialism; but the basis for asserting this as a demonstrable fact is faith, not "hard evidence".

In Cumbria's upper Eden valley there are two 11 to 18 comprehensives in towns 10 miles apart; they draw from similar catchment areas, with not much external competition. This year the one with specialist status improved its GCSE A* to C percentage from 46 to 56. The one still seeking specialist status improved from 57 to 66. All that these figures show is that both schools are in good form; it is not apparent that specialist status per se is relevant to results.

Andy Connell

11 Mill Hill



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