Should Wales have specialist schools too?

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Wales has never had specialist schools, yet half the parents surveyed by TES Cymru would like to see their secondaries becoming technology or language colleges.

The findings have surprised the teacher unions, which have generally endorsed the Welsh Assembly government's decision not to introduce the policy. It is committed instead to a system of non-selective community comprehensives.

Unions are concerned that specialist schools could select pupils by ability (specialist schools in England can select up to 10 per cent of their intake on aptitude, although very few do). They also note that, outside of the urban areas of Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, there are not enough local schools to offer a full range of subject specialisms.

Geraint Davies, secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, said: "The comprehensive school system has served Welsh pupils very well, with education standards increasing year on year. There is no need to replace what we have.

"Specialist schools only work in the larger cities and towns. The geographical nature of Wales doesn't lend itself to the establishment of specialist schools."

But Peter Shaw, head of 670-pupil Ysgol Rhiwabon, near Wrexham, believes Wales is missing out.

"What specialist schools tend to do is attract money into the area. They have to raise a certain amount of funding (pound;50,000), so they have to get companies involved," he said.

"Schools should be at the heart of the community - and the community should support the school.

"Say I wanted to become a performing arts or specialist PE college, why shouldn't I be able to market my strengths? I think Wales is missing out.

Anything that brings extra money into schools is good."

Nearly two-thirds of English secondaries now have a specialism. They have to raise pound;50,000 in sponsorship but then receive a one-off pound;100,000 grant for building improvements and pound;129 a year extra per pupil.

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