Special is not selective

27th November 1998 at 00:00
SEVERAL recent articles, including "Ministers accused of creeping selection", (TES, October 30) have bracketed specialist schools with grammar schools in the selection debate.

This bears very little relation to my knowledge of the schooling situation in the north-east or in the specialist schools network. There are now 44 specialist schools in this region and not one of them is exercising its selective option.

As a group they are representative of the diverse school communities in the region and are committed to raising the aspirations and achievement of students from all social backgrounds, regardless of their abilities. The Technology College Trust's own survey suggests that fewer than 10 per cent of specialist schools have a selective element associated with their specialist status. It is also difficult to argue that they are taking an unfair proportion of funding. The additional grant to a specialist school is small by comparison with the differential effect at school level of local authoritiescentral government funding policies.

In Newcastle, which now has four specialist schools out of 12 secondary schools, consideration is being given to their strategic role in supporting achievement across the city. There is much to be gained from collaboration and plenty of evidence to suggest that headteachers and local authority education officers are willing to take an open view of the possibilities.

Specialist schools differ in one very important sense: they work individually and collectively to improve opportunities for young people by looking forward while so many proponents of reform seem to be trying to recreate the past. They work to recreate the educational enterprise culture which inspired my generation of teachers at the outset of the comprehensive revolution in the 60s and 70s.

After a bruising experience from the late 80s to the current day in which teachers' ideas of whatever merit have been dismissed as vested interest, we are trying to take the initiative. Specialist schools are generating a new agenda which is more disciplined in the priority it gives to evaluation, more specific in terms of outcomes and much bolder in its thinking.

If critics of current Government policy are committed to opportunity for all, they might well take a closer look at the increasingly important contribution being made by specialist schools.

K E Nancekievill Head, Gosforth High School Newcastle upon Tyne

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